While undergoing his first phase of lane training for the Expert Infantry Badge at Fort Leonard Wood, Pvt. Jerome Smith, of Company C, 1-138th Infantry Regiment in St. Louis identifies terrain features on a map. Smith was one of the elite 12 in his regiment to earn the badge. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)
By Jennifer Archdekin
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - Infantrymen with the Missouri National Guard set out this summer to earn the prestigious Expert Infantry Badge. While conducting their two-week annual training at Fort Leonard Wood, 75 members of the 1-138th Infantry Regiment headquartered in Kansas City battled it out for the esteemed badge, with an elite 12 earning the honor to wear the rifle emblem on their chests.
The unit believes this is the first time the Missouri National Guard has ever conducted this test and is proud to have the opportunity to award a dozen of the badges.
"I'm extremely proud of our efforts," said Lt. Col. Levon Cumpton, commander of the 1-138th Infantry Regiment. "Training for and testing the Expert Infantry Badge is a great event that allowed us to focus on the basic 'blocking and tackling' fundamentals of being an infantryman -- shooting, moving and communicating on the battle field."
Cumpton said the process was a team effort that involved all battalion echelons.
"The EIB planning started over nine months ago," said Cumpton. "Battalion leaders, especially NCOs, worked with their men for the last few months and trained hard the first week of annual training in preparation for testing the second week."
Before going through five days of instruction, the infantrymen had to first meet physical fitness requirements, pass both day and night land navigation courses and shoot at an expert level on the M-16 rifle.
Once meeting those prerequisites, the candidates were challenged with three lanes of testing. They were required to successfully execute eight of 10 tasks on each lane in a combat environment; two tests within 20 minutes and the third within 25 minutes. Some tasks included identifying terrain features, reacting to unexploded ordnances, moving under direct fire, employing a hand grenade, performing first aid to a casualty, establishing radio communications and putting multiple weapons systems in operation.
Upon the completion of the 30 tasks, the troops then had to finish a 12 mile road march within three hours. In addition to being outfitted with their load bearing vests and Kevlar helmet, participants had to carry water, an MRE, an M-16 rifle, body armor and at least a 35-pound ruck sack on their backs.
"It's pretty tough," said Pvt. Jerome Smith, of Company C in St. Louis. "The land navigation was pretty challenging, but we studied a lot and our sergeants prepared us really well. I think we trained-up efficiently, although when you get in the heat of the moment things can go a little haywire."
Smith, a sophomore at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, ultimately persevered all of the obstacles and earned the badge.
Capt. Tyson Erdman, of Headquarters Company in Kansas City, was impressed with how well his unit conducted their first EIB testing. As the assistant operations officer, and recipient of the badge while serving in the active duty Army, Erdman said that receiving the badge is a real honor.
"Number one, it's something they get to show off on their chest, that's what everyone wants," said Erdman. "It's one of those things that identify an infantryman as an expert. It shows I know the weapon systems and I know what to do."
Though many attempted to earn the badge and only a few walked away with it, Erdman said all was not lost.
"We've had no-gos along the way, but overall the training sets them up for success in the future," said Erdman. "It's absolutely totally worth it. The next time they get a chance to do the EIB again they will already have a head start."
All of the Soldiers that participated will return to their unit with more knowledge and training just having gone through the experience.
"It's a very hard, hard test to do," said Erdman. "If you see that EIB pinned on someone's chest it means they worked to get it. It's definitely something a Soldier needs to be proud about."
"We're stronger and more capable for having completed the training," said Cumpton.
The 1-138th Infantry Regiment maintains units in Anderson, Boonville, Jefferson City, Kansas City, Monett, Perryville and St. Louis. Those that earned the Expert Infantry Badge are:
Spc. Nathaniel Herndon, of Columbia
Spc. Jack Jones, of Columbia
Staff Sgt. Cheston Kent, of Columbia
Staff Sgt. Dennis Schwartze, of Raymore
Spc. Joel Trout, of Richmond
Pfc. Ryan Drago, of St. Louis
Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Andrews, of Marble Hill
Staff Sgt. Ryan Devers, of Cape Girardeau
Spc. William Duncan, of Villa Ridge
Pvt. Jerome Smith, of Springfield, Ill.
Spc. Jordon Terry, of St. Robert
Spc. Steven Atkins, of Higginsville
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please visit www.moguard.com and our social media sites: www.facebook.com/Missouri.National.Guard; www.twitter.com/Missouri_NG; www.youtube.com/MoNationalGuard; www.myspace.com/missouri_ng; www.flickr.com/photos/missouriguard; www.moguard.com/blog; www.pinterest.com/monationalguard/
Once reaching the wounded Soldier, Pvt. Jerome Smith, of Company C, 1-138th Infantry Regiment in St. Louis, assess the injury and applies a tourniquet to the wound as part of his testing for the Expert Infantry Badge. Heavy rain and muddy conditions at Fort Leonard Wood further challenged Smith, but he was one of 12 in his regiment to earn the prestigious badge. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin/Missouri National Guard)