FORT MCCOY, Wis. — Twenty-four Red Arrow Soldiers earned the right to call themselves “Expert Infantrymen” after concluding a grueling multi-day assessment of their infantry skills at Fort McCoy in June.
The 24 Soldiers earned the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) during the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s annual training.
Training for the competition began June 7 with more than 190 candidates after the 32nd reported for annual training, and testing concluded June 18. The Soldiers received six days of training on the various tasks required to earn the EIB and then moved into five consecutive days of testing. To earn the EIB, Soldiers must successfully complete 41 specific tasks. Failing more than two disqualifies a candidate. One Soldier was “true blue,” meaning, he completed every task without a single “no-go” in any event.
Soldiers in any military occupational specialty (MOS) can compete, but only those holding infantry or cavalry MOSs are eligible to wear the badge. For an officer to wear the badge, infantry must be their primary branch. Soldiers also must pre-qualify as “expert” on their rifles before joining the competition.
The testing begins with the Army Physical Fitness Test, in which candidates must score a minimum of 75 points on a 100-point scale in each category — push-ups, sit-ups and two-mile run. Soldiers usually have to score a minimum of 60 points in each category to pass during regular testing.
Day and night land navigation, medical scenarios, combat lanes, assembly and disassembly of weapons systems and a 12-mile road march are all included in the 41 tasks. The Soldiers are put through various lanes where they must react to different scenarios. The 41 tasks are embedded in those lanes, and the competitors don’t know when or in what order they will be tested. The 12-mile road march is the final event, and candidates must walk 12 miles in three hours while carrying a full pack. Upon completion, they must clear their weapon, disassemble it within two minutes, then reassemble it and conduct a functions check in two minutes.
“So when you’re physically exhausted, you have to be very mentally sharp,” said Capt. Nickolas Litchfield, of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry and a member of the board that organized this year’s testing.
Litchfield said the last time any Wisconsin Guardsmen tested for the EIB was in 2003 when Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry competed. The brigade had not offered the testing brigade-wide since the 1990s.
“The Expert Infantry Badge signifies that I, as a Soldier, know everything I can possibly know in my craft and can do it under pressure and in arduous conditions and still come through and do everything that is needed to complete a mission,” Litchfield said.
He said that only about 8 percent of candidates ultimately earn the badge Army-wide, but the knowledge, skills and training that results only benefits the larger force.
“Because they know how to receive training, and then they pass that on and give training,” he said. “EIB holders in any unit become the core group that know what to do and when to do it and how to do it and keep on with the ingenuity that infantrymen always possess.”
EIB testing began in 1944 at the direction of the Army’s chief of staff, and the test is standardized across the Army. For that reason, the 32nd partnered with the 101st Airborne’s Third Brigade Combat Team to validate graders, tasks, conditions and standards for the testing. Litchfield said the support from the active component was vital in making the EIB testing a success for the 32nd.
Because of how long it has been since the Red Arrow conducted EIB testing, the unit did not have enough EIB holders to run it organically. All graders must be EIB holders themselves, and with the operations tempo and deployments of the past decade, the 32nd has not had an opportunity to do the testing and build a roster of EIB holders. With 24 newly minted members of that fraternity, the brigade hopes to be able to continue growing its numbers and eventually run its own testing.
Litchfield believes that EIB testing fits with the brigade’s goal of getting back to the individual fundamentals and basics of being an infantryman. Maj. Andrew Johansen, with the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry and president of the 32nd’s EIB board, agreed and hopes that the brigade can continue to conduct testing at regular intervals.
“Because they go through so many tasks and their individual Soldier skills, regardless if they earn the badge or not, they’ve gone through the train-up, so they are very proficient in the 41 tasks that they’re trained on,” he said. “So they can take that training back to the unit and take it forward and help all the Soldiers in the unit become more proficient infantrymen.”
Sgt. Scott Behnke, a team leader with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, earned his EIB during this year’s competition. He believes that the badge sets Soldiers apart from their peers and demonstrates the ability to operate under pressure.
“It’s an eye-opener,” he said. “You see a lot of people that fail, and you see a few people that make it, so it shows you that it really does come down to how hard you study and how well you pay attention to details.” With testing complete, twenty-four newly minted Red Arrow EIB holders can now set themselves apart as experts in their craft.