116th IBCT conducts Expert Infantryman Badge testing

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Stemmler of the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, was one of three Soldiers awarded the Expert Infantry Badge by the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team June 14, 2013, following five days of grueling physical and mental tests. (Photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office)

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Stemmler of the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, was one of three Soldiers awarded the Expert Infantryman Badge by the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team June 14, 2013, following five days of grueling physical and mental tests. (Photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — The 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted Expert Infantryman Badge testing June 10-14, 2013, at Fort Pickett, Va. Of the 110 Soldiers that began the testing, three made it to the final 12-mile timed ruck march on June 14. After successfully completing the final task, 1st Lt. Sean Gramm of 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, Sgt. Benjamin Lehmer of 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th IBCT, and Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Stemmler of the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, were awarded the badge by Col. John Epperly, commander of the brigade.

Established in 1944, the badge was created as a sign of distinction and to motivate Soldiers to strive for excellence. The 100th Infantry Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., selected 100 of their top noncommissioned officers to participate in the very first EIB testing. After completing an array of foot marches, weapons qualifications, and combat courses 10 NCOs remained. From that 10, a board of officers selected Technical Sgt. Walter Bull to receive the first-ever Expert Infantryman Badge.

Sgt. Benjamin Lehmer of 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducts first aid during Expert Infantryman Badge testing by the 116th IBCT June 14, 2013, at Fort Pickett, Va.(Photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office)

Sgt. Benjamin Lehmer of 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducts first aid during Expert Infantryman Badge testing by the 116th IBCT June 14, 2013, at Fort Pickett, Va.(Photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office)

“EIB is the premier training vehicle for individual infantry-skills training,” said Epperly.Training and testing for the EIB, as outlined in the U.S. Army Infantry School Pamphlet 350-6, is to be rigorous, mission-focused and conducted under realistic conditions. The menu-based test enables units to develop unique scenarios that test the infantryman’s expertise in the fundamentals, and his ability to solve problems under ambiguous conditions.“The new lane format requires Soldiers to retain all their knowledge, as opposed to the old station format that allowed Soldiers to perform a task, dump it, and move on,” said Sgt. Maj. Kevin Stewart, who led the effort to develop the brigade’s EIB testing that was validated in May by the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga. Stewart began preparing for the testing in November of 2012. He spent hundreds of hours developing a unique course to meet the badge’s standards and the brigade’s capabilities. By February, Stewart had distributed 500 study booklets for candidates within the brigade to prepare. The week of EIB testing began after potential candidates had qualified as expert marksmen on their M4 rifle. For their first task, candidates were required to score a minimum of 75% in the sit-up, push-up, and 2-mile run portion of the Army Physical Fitness Test.

After a grueling land-navigation course that eliminated more than half of the remaining candidates, 17 infantrymen began the first of three lanes meant to test their 11B muster. Each timed lane encompassed 10 tasks for the Soldiers to complete by the book.

“The lanes are nerve racking, but you can never second guess yourself,” said Lehmer. “You have to rely on your training and do the best that you can.”

In the traffic control point lane, candidates were required to perform, among other things, a function’s check on and successfully fire a M240B machine gun, start up a Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below communications device, and send a Size, Activity, Location, Unit identification, Time and Equipment report of enemy forces, all in 25 minutes.

Soldiers employed hand grenades, searched detainees, and transported casualties during their 20-minute time limit on the urban assault lane.

Stemmler and Gramm both said that the most difficult portion of the testing was the patrol lane. This lane included an initial ‘call-for-fire’ then adjustments, throwing a hand grenade 35 meters inside a 25-meter circle, and loading, unloading, and reducing stoppage of a malfunction on a M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

“There were so many time-consuming tasks that if you didn’t move with a purpose you would run out of time,” said Stemmler. “There’s a lot to think about and worrying about minor missteps that could cause you to fail.”

The night land-navigation course left only three infantrymen remaining.

“You can definitely tell that these Soldiers studied, prepared themselves physically and mentally, for this,” Stewart said about the three final candidates.

Stemmler attributes his success on the EIB lane testing to his experience as an infantry instructor for the last four years and training with a partner.

“I read and reread the EIB study guide in my off-time and practiced a lot with my brother, an infantryman in 3-116th,” said Stemmler. “We would go to the armory and pull every weapon we could get our hands on, doing function checks and immediate action over and over again.”

Lehmer, a CrossFit instructor, has been preparing for this test since October of last year.

“As a NCO, I was responsible for teaching the tasks to my Soldiers,” said Lehmer. “I would receive the following month’s tasks and study them thoroughly before training Soldiers.”

He attributes his success on the land navigation portion to the extensive land navigation he performed in Ranger School, which he graduated from in 2011. Also, Ranger School’s requirement of attention to detail helped him to prepare for the meticulous by-the-book standards of EIB.

Gramm said he prepared for the EIB testing by looking up online study guides and rereading the Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks.

“As an infantry officer, I have to be an expert in all the tasks I require my Soldiers to perform so that I can correctly evaluate them,” said Gramm.

“I am very thankful to the Virginia National Guard for inviting me to participate in this testing, housing and feeding me, and providing me with a weapon for the testing,” said Gramm.

Gramm’s unit, like so many, does not have enough EIB-awarded personnel to conduct the testing. Even with the brigade’s approximately 40 EIB-holders, it was all hands-on-deck, said Stewart.

After more than 10 years since the brigade last held testing for the badge, many of the unit’s holders are nearing retirement.

“It is important to the future of the brigade that we conduct regular testing to build the ranks of holders, ensuring our ability to conduct it autonomously,” said Epperly.

“These men serve as a beacon to their fellow Soldiers, encompassing the physical fitness and ability to perform to standards of excellence in a broad spectrum of critical infantry skills.”