By 1st Lt. Matthew R. Strachan
Apache Troop, 6th Squadron, 4th CAV, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division
Afghanistan - Privates First Class Ryan Soderborg and Eric Hale, of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, personified the standard with their recent attainment of the Excellence in Armor distinction.
The two motivated troops were the only junior enlisted soldiers to earn the coveted title and the respect of their fellow cavalrymen.
Soderborg, of Magna, Utah, and Hale, of Casper, Wyo., were joined by Sgt. Shaun Hereld, of Hampton, Va., and Sgt. Ivon Gonzales, of Houston, in acquiring the Excellence in Armor distinction.
“These two soldiers and two noncommissioned officers displayed incredible fitness, along with unmatched technical and tactical skill; that shows they are the top 1 percent of Cavalry,” said Apache Troops Commander, Captain Richard Varner.
The Excellence in Armor competition honors the traditions of the Cavalry and showcases technical skill demanded of the contemporary Cavalry.
The competition is a return to the distinct roots that separate the cavalry from the larger Army and a revival of the singular fighting culture that atrophied under the pressure of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.
“During the tenure of fighting two unconventional wars on two fronts, the 19D Cavalry Scout has lost his core competencies in traditional and conventional war fighting skill sets,” said Apache Troop’s 1st Sgt. Todd Hines, of Philadelphia.
For the Armor branch, the Excellence in Armor is equivalent to the Expert Infantryman Badge, or the Expert Field Medical Badge.
Soldiers rose before dawn to hit the gym and logged long nights studying to prepare for the exacting standards of the competition.
“Excellence in Armor was a goal I wanted to complete as a scout and so when I got the opportunity I jumped on it,” Soderborg said. “I studied for six hours a day with a fellow scout. Twice a day we would run through all events to be completed during EIA and during our down time we would go outside and complete practical exercises on the more hands-on events.”
The Excellence in Armor competition was conducted over a two-day period in late November in northern Afghanistan.
The competition emphasizes the importance of the Cavalry heritage and reinforces the competencies that make the Cavalry a distinct breed.
The Cavalry is steeped with history and tradition that dates back to the late 18th century. Throughout the history of the United States, the Cavalry has proven itself to be an integral part of the military.
From Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders to the Battle of the 73 Easting in Desert Storm, the importance of that tradition is alive and well at Camp John Pratt with Apache Troop, 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment.
Twenty-five Soldiers volunteered for the competition, ready to endure the physical and mental strain to become elite cavalry soldiers.
Day one started with an Army Physical Fitness Test, where soldiers had to score in the top 15 percent in the APFT to advance.
Competitors also had to demonstrate a minimum of sharpshooter qualification on the M4 rifle to advance.
The competitors then validated their proficiency clearing, disassembling, reassembling, and conducting misfire procedures for the M249 light machine gun, M240 medium machine gun, .50 Cal heavy machine gun and MK19 grenade launcher.
The day concluded with soldiers being tested on properly identifying various types of ammunition and tactical identification of vehicles. Twenty one soldiers were unable to advance beyond the first day.
On day two, the four remaining competitors assembled a range card – a diagram depicting terrain – and then a specific weapon is assigned to guard in a defensive position, before they establish up a helicopter-landing zone.
The group then successfully operated various types of radios, evaluated and treated a casualty and called in a report to evacuate a casualty.
All four were up to the grueling challenges.
Following the exercise, a closed board was held, challenging the soldiers’ composure under pressure and evaluating their morale character. It was the final leg of the competition.
All four provided answers to the board of current cavalrymen consistent with the highest standards of ethical soldiering and staying “cool” under fire.
With their selection for the EIA comes the recognition as skilled cavalrymen, as they enter into the great tradition of the Cavalrymen that blazed the path before them.
Now it will be their unique honor to carry the storied tradition forward.
“During the time of EIA we learned how the U.S. Cavalry has evolved in our army and how they have always played a huge role in battle,” Gonzales said. “The Cavalry has been the forward most line of troops on the battle field since the beginning and our knowledge and skills make us an important asset. This is why the Excellence in Armor is important to me, because of the rich history and traditions of the Cavalry and knowing that we are a part of it all.”