FORT POLK, La. — The Army has established a new, outcome-based standard for testing and awarding infantry expertise, and Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division are leading the way.
The new standard for a Soldier to earn an Expert Infantryman Badge is called EIB XXI. After a week-long testing period, which ended in late September, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division became the first active-Army unit to award the badges to candidates based on the new standard.
“We are the validating unit for the Army,” said Sgt. 1st Class Shane Mellon, a 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment platoon sergeant.
Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rice, post command sergeant major for Fort Benning, Ga., and U.S. Army Infantry School leaders will review and assess data from the brigade’s validation, he said.
“They are going to say, ‘This is what the old test results were like, (and) this is what the new test results of the EIB XXI are,'” said Mellon, who served on the EIB committee and helped conceptualize and design the testing lanes.
Before the EIB XXI standard, graders tested EIB candidates one task at a time on a go or no-go basis. Even after an extensive testing period, Soldiers could study for an individual task and get tested on that task before moving on to another.
EIB XXI is different and incorporates outcome-based lanes with multiple tasks. Mellon said it is still just as hard for a candidate to get an EIB today as it was when he earned his in 2002.
“There is no time for memorizing, there is no time for the old way of looking over a book and saying, ‘OK, I am ready to take this test,'” said Mellon. “When I got my EIB, you trained on the test site for two to three weeks, and then you tested for real. You had the cadre there and you practiced with them.
“The candidates here don’t see the site until test week. These Soldiers practiced with their squad leaders, platoon sergeants (and) first sergeants grading them — their battle buddies,” said Mellon. “So it really incorporated squad- and team-level training and battle buddy teams going, ‘Hey, you messed that up,’ as opposed to the old way of ‘I can look at my book and now I am ready to test and get my go.'”
EIB XXI is designed for unit flexibility while maintaining core standards all units must uphold regardless of their battle function and equipment. Fort Benning, Ga., and U.S. Army Infantry Center leaders dictate a minimum of 30 core tasks on which all EIB-issuing units must test candidates using scenario-based lanes. Units can choose added “decision tasks” to customize EIB testing dependent upon the environment to which they might deploy, equipment they might employ and battlefield functions they might fulfill.
“Any unit who does this can say, ‘We are going to this theater of operations, and we think we are going to be doing this,” said Mellon. “So that is what we did. We are going to go to Afghanistan sometime in the future, so we said, ‘What would we take with us?’ So we (structured) our EIB around the core tasks we are going to be doing in Afghanistan.”
The brigade’s testing included three lanes of 10 tasks each, on which candidates had to receive a “go” on 80 percent of the tasks for each lane. The lane testing consisted of patrol, urban operations and traffic control point lanes.
Tasks included candidates proving proficiency with various weapons systems including M240B and .50 caliber machine guns, M249 squad automatic weapons, javelin anti-tank missile systems, hand grenades and AT4 anti-armor weapons.
They also were tested on administering several forms of first aid to comrades and opposing forces and evacuating a casualty; operating communications systems including Force XXI battle command brigade and below communications platforms; calling in reports to higher headquarters; searching and controlling captured OPFOR; and more.
Mellon said the way Fort Benning leaders described it to him, decision tasks are included in EIB XXI testing because Soldiers need to determine right from wrong and know what to do and when to do it on the battlefield.
“If you are in the middle of a firefight and one of your buddies goes down and he is not severely injured, you continue fighting until you get to the point where you can treat him,” said Mellon. “Or, if he is severely injured, that is when you decide, ‘Hey, I need to take myself out of this fight because my wounded buddy is not going to survive if I don’t do something.’ Because that is what we do; that is what we have to be prepared to do,” said Mellon. “Hopefully, these lanes prepared them for some of those future experiences.”
Candidates also had to qualify expert with M-4 rifles, score a minimum of 75 percent for each event of an Army Physical Fitness Test, successfully negotiate day and night land navigation lanes and complete a 12-mile road march in three hours or less beginning on the final day of testing.
Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Ashton, a squad leader assigned to Company D, 2-30 Infantry Regiment, said he felt outstanding after completing the 12-mile road march, calling it “pretty awesome. EIB XXI is much better than the original EIB standard,” he said.
“(There) is a lot more situational awareness. It is current with what is going on in theater and what you need to do to accomplish your mission any given day in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Mellon said the process of training for and going through the EIB testing is beneficial to the Army and even to Soldiers who didn’t earn EIBs this time.
“The training they received for EIBs, the testing, the realism — as much as we could (recreate it) — the stress we put on it, that is going to prepare them better than the old school EIB ever would,” said Mellon. “Yes, you know how to perform a functions check on an M-16 (or M-4 rifle) but can you do it while somebody is shooting and throwing hand grenades at you? We simulated combat as much as we could on this.”
Mellon’s message to units that have not yet instituted testing according to the new EIB XXI standards is simple. Follow the lead of 4th Brigade and the Army will get better infantrymen and leaders that have a hand in their Soldiers’ successes.
“You are going to get a better-trained force, an expert infantry force of Soldiers (using) the new EIB XXI (standard),” said Mellon. “You watch your Soldiers go through those lanes and you know that it better prepares them for combat.”