FORT CARSON, Colo. - “It chokes me up,” said Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Isaac Ragusa.
Thirty-eight soldiers crossed the finish line of a 12-mile road march. The soldiers walked, ran and hobbled to the end line for the right to wear the Expert Infantry Badge.
The 378 infantryman from across the 4th Infantry Division attempted to earn the right to wear the expert infantryman badge during a certification week hosted by the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., Aug. 19-23 on Fort Carson, Colo.
Ragusa, president of the EIB association and senior enlisted leader to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2ABCT, held open the gates to the specialized club of infantrymen founded in the throws of WWII.
According to U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, the Army created the EIB to provide a drawing card for a tough and thankless job and to add prestige to an otherwise undesirable yet necessary task. The U.S. Army, in 1944, tested 100 Non-commissioned Officers, of the 100th Infantry Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., for their worth as expert infantrymen.
Ten passed, a percentage that’s followed the EIB ever since.
“These Soldiers are within the top ten percent of their peer group across the Army,” said Ragusa. “The Army will rely on this soldier to train and prepare his soldiers for war.”
The first day’s physical fitness test and land navigation courses thinned the group from 378 to a handful more than a hundred. Toward the end of the infantry task lanes less than 50 stood tall.
Spc. Adam Salazar, Company B, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, one of the 50 Soldiers remaining, knew he was on the cusp of something great.
As he pushed through the Traffic Control Point lane, he manned a .50 caliber machine gun and reacted to direct fire. He pressed through a concertina wire maze under indirect fire, and rushed to treat a casualty. When he came upon his B240 machine gun, he caught a snag, create and draw a range card, a card designed to provide a graphical depiction of his firing position’s sector of fire.
A face dripping with sweat, hands soaked into combat gloves, a barely legible marker and the Colorado sun made the range card, a detailed sketch used to map out a sector of fire, the impassable hurdle.
But Salazar pressed the clock, barely finishing the range card as the grader called time. Still missing the last task, however, Salazar was confident, if he had less than three negative marks and would be considered a go.
“No Go,” the grader called out.
Tears joined the sweat on Salazar’s face.
“An expert infantryman’s badge is the only way for a soldier to be tested in his craft within the infantry,” said Ragusa. “It’s all about being part of something that’s bigger than yourself, it’s about being part of the United States Army, about being part of the United States Infantry Corps.”
“Correction, you are a go,” called out the grader.
Salazar stood up slowly, relieved.
“I ended up wiping myself off and walking over with my head up all high, and realized that weather I was a no go or not, I should have get my head up and understood the hard work and training I put in was real regardless of the outcome.”
At 4:00 a.m. Salazar and 37 others put their hard work to test. But instead of 38 silhouettes dotting across the dark, an additional dozen or more soldiers donned rucksacks and sat across the starting line.
Fellow infantrymen marched in solidarity; some awarded the EIB in years past, some having fallen out the first day, including the man next to Salazar, his NCO.
“The people who have the EIB is a small close knit group, the people who didn’t make it understand it takes a lot to get an EIB, the people out here in support knew have it, know what it takes,” said Ragusa.
The soldiers marched out of the night and into the morning, first down hills then up them after they hit the turn around point.
Two miles to go Salazar felt his whole body cramp up, but he pressed, fellow infantrymen on his flanks. At 100 meters left, Salazar, deafened by the cheers of his fellow soldiers, caught a second wind as his fellow family members waited for him at the finish line, including his 5-year old son, Landon Salazar, who reached out to his father.
Father and son walked the last 100 meters hand in hand.
“Words can’t express how I felt with my family, my wife, my baby girls and my son to be out there for the last hundred feet, which were the worst part of the whole dang twelve miles,” said Salazar.
Ragusa said the soldier doesn’t just earn the EIB, the entire family earns the badge, form the family within the infantry to the one at home.
“The wife, the child are going to know, I was there when my husband, I was their when my father achieved this feat,” said Ragusa.
But for Salazar this isn’t an end it’s a beginning.
“It’s time to take the opportunities that come at me, and here it is, the EIB, my starting point, my motivation to continue my career in U.S. Army, the infantry.”
Salazar paused, “but I’m gonna go sit down now.”
Twelve miles into the morning sunrise, Salazar sat down for a moment. An infantryman’s career lay in front of him.