HOFENELS, Germany - The mark of professionalism for any infantry soldier is embodied in the Expert Infantryman Badge.
In most infantry units, the rigorous rite of passage to earn the coveted badge is conducted on an annual basis. This year at Hohenfels, Germany, soldiers tested their mettle as more than 200 infantrymen competed for the badge.
Pvt. Braser Sestoso, serving at the Joint Multination Readiness Center, is assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment.
"To me, the EIB shows that you are a competent infantryman," said Sestoso, who was dead set on earning the badge, "They train you hard and test you rigorously. It's an honor to earn it."
The EIB is different than other awards.
With 26 years of service in the infantry, Master Sgt. Tim Tasse has firsthand knowledge of why the EIB is such a significant award.
"It's not a requirement to have it," says Tasse, who earned his EIB as a young soldier in 1988, "but those who do wear it display to their peers and leaders that they have the high level of intelligence, determination and adaptability that it demands."
Infantry soldiers who have already earned the badge often mentor their comrades who are undergoing the challenges that EIB testing presents.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Hestand is a squad leader serving with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, and assisted in running the traffic control point lane during the testing phase.
"Each lane is designed to test different skill sets that are essential to the professional infantryman," explains Hestand.
"Preparation and mentorship begins months before EIB takes place," said Hestand, who like other leaders in his unit, spent numerous hours guiding and assisting their soldiers as they prepared for the testing phase.
With a traditional pass rate of approximately 10 percent, the soldiers who make it through the demanding week of testing have achieved a hallmark that will stay with them for the duration of their careers.
However, the EIB represents more than just pride in a well deserved achievement.
For Hestand, it is the knowledge that EIB holding infantrymen can impart on other soldiers which is essential to maintain what is so often called the world's best fighting force.
"EIB is a goal that each infantryman wants to attain, it keeps them [soldiers] driving forward, trying to be better. That's why we are always able to fight and win."
Crossing the finish line of the 12-mile foot march that stands as the last hurdle before being awarded the EIB, 1st. Lt. Stuart McFarlane smiles as he says, "It was definitely worth it!"
Earning the badge marks McFarlane and the other six infantrymen who earned met the standard as masters of their chosen profession.
Narrowly missing the foot march deadline by minutes, Pvt. Sestoso is determined to take what he has learned from the grueling competition and return next year to meet the challenge of the EIB once again.