News: White Falcons pilot updated EIB
Story by Sgt. Joseph Guenther
FORT BRAGG, N.C. – As the Army continues to progress into more tactical-focused training, the 82nd Airborne Division is leading the way. That leadership is heralded by the training and qualifications that define an “Expert Infantryman.”
From April 29 to May 3, 2013, Paratroopers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, along with other “Falcon Brigade” Soldiers, were among the first in the Army to meet that modern qualification.
In 2010, the Army began an initiative to upgrade the testing for the Expert Infantryman Badge from a series of stations which tested soldiers on individual skills, to a combat-oriented testing environment. The division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team led the way in this pilot program when they tested their Paratroopers on the new methods of evaluation for the first time.
Again, the EIB testing has evolved, making it even more challenging and relevant to the modern era. For this task, the 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment was chosen to lead the way with setup and evaluation of candidates.
“Soldiers are now required to execute their full knowledge of nine weapons systems according to a time standard,” said Master Sgt. Shane Hancock, the EIB program manager at Fort Benning, Ga.
The EIB began in 1943 as a way to separate the truly excellent from their peers. It has gone through multiple changes as equipment and tactics have changed over the years.
The most dramatic of those changes occurred when the Army merged the stations into situational tactical lanes, requiring candidates to demonstrate their skills under simulated combat stress.
Gone were the days of displaying a few hand-and-arm signals for one grader, performing a grenade toss for another, and moving on to a call for indirect fire for yet another grader.
Candidates are now required to perform these tasks in conjunction with one another, as part of a typical combat scenario.
Hand-and-arm signals now demonstrate a soldier’s ability to lead a formation on a patrol, grenades are tossed to simulated enemies under notional fire, and a call for indirect fire is conducted on a target encountered in combat.
The participants will encounter one lane per day, and each of them will be timed to enhance the feeling of combat stressors.
While the weapons stations can be attempted up to twice per EIB candidate, they may only attempt each lane one time and complete every assigned task, said Hancock.
In addition to the lanes, the Army Physical Fitness Test, land navigation, and a 12-mile road march with a 35 pound rucksack remain paramount events designed to truly separate the best from their peers.
Although there were 303 candidates from across the brigade who began the testing on April 29, only 61 ultimately crossed the finish line at the end of the week. The EIB has a well-known attrition rate that often exceeds 75 percent.
Among those paratroopers who earned their Expert Infantryman Badge, seven of them walked away with the prestige of being “True Blue,” candidates who passed every event on the first attempt.
"My greatest motivation is just getting the badge so that I can become an expert infantryman," said Sgt. Sean McManus, a candidate at EIB.
This elite separation is particularly important for officers in leadership positions said Capt. Dave Mudek. It's important for the Paratroopers who make up the ranks of an infantry company understand that their senior leaders care, he explained.
Mudek said, "It shows that they're ready to lead from the front."
That leadership was proven by not only the officers and noncommissioned officers of the White Falcon battalion, but by every infantry paratrooper who accepted the Army's challenge of a newer, more challenging Expert Infantryman Badge evaluation. By being among the first in the Army to be evaluated under new conditions, they've proven that they are agile and flexible, and ready to move forward with whatever task and challenge is given to them.