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Capt. Quinetta Forby, 30, receives the Expert Soldier Badge from the commander of U.S. Army Japan, Maj. Gen. Joel B. Vowell, at Sagami General Depot, Japan, Friday, April 22, 2022.

Capt. Quinetta Forby, 30, receives the Expert Soldier Badge from the commander of U.S. Army Japan, Maj. Gen. Joel B. Vowell, at Sagami General Depot, Japan, Friday, April 22, 2022. (Kelly Agee/Stars and Stripes)

SAGAMI GENERAL DEPOT, Japan – Capt. Quinetta Forby beamed as the commander of U.S. Army Japan, Maj. Gen. Joel B. Vowell, pinned the Expert Soldier Badge to her tunic on Friday.

Forby, 30, a native of Shady Dale, Ga., was one of 23 soldiers, and the only woman, to earn the badge and the title by demonstrating their knowledge of all things Army, from weaponry to land navigation to combat medical procedures.

The four-day competition, the first ever for U.S. Army Japan, began Monday with a field of 121 from across Japan and Guam. The competing troops spent a week starting April 18 training for the tests they would face.

“I wanted to get out here and push my soldiers just as much as they push me,” Forby, the commander of Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, told Stars and Stripes on Friday. “As a leader, it is good for me to see what they actually have to do.”

She was also one of five soldiers to earn a perfect score at each station on the course, a feat that earned a second accolade, a “perfect edge.” Those five soldiers were also awarded an Army Commendation Medal.

Pfc. Felix Rosario Acosta, 21, a human resources specialist with 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Sagami General Depot, Japan, was among those who earned an Expert Soldier Badge, Friday, April 22, 2022.

Pfc. Felix Rosario Acosta, 21, a human resources specialist with 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Sagami General Depot, Japan, was among those who earned an Expert Soldier Badge, Friday, April 22, 2022. (Juan King/Stars and Stripes)

The Army approved the Expert Soldier Badge in 2019 as a way for soldiers in occupations other than infantry and medical care to prove their combat readiness, Vowell said during the awards ceremony.

The competition started at Camp Zama, the U.S. Army Japan headquarters, and included events at Sagami General Depot and Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji.

Wheeled-vehicle mechanics, human resources specialists and musicians, among others, took part in the competition. Throughout the week, they faced 30 “warrior tasks” in physical fitness, weapons proficiency, land navigation, patrolling and medical comprehension.

Pfc. Felix Rosario Acosta, 21, a human resources specialist with 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Sagami General Depot, also earned the Expert Soldier Badge. He said the competition was the first time he’s touched any of the weapons or performed any of the life-saving techniques.

“Nobody sees a human resources person trying to get this badge, because we are paper workers,” Rosario Acosta, a native of Lares Morovis, Puerto Rico, told Stars and Stripes on Thursday. “I want to represent human resources.”

His father, Guillermo Roserio Nieves, retired after 20 years as an Army human resources specialist. “I want to make my dad proud,” Rosario Acosta said.

Soldiers competed against themselves rather than each other. For each task, each soldier must meet or exceed the score set by the Army to advance to the next round.

The Army approved the Expert Soldier Badge in 2019 as a way for soldiers in occupations other than infantry and medical care to prove their combat readiness.

The Army approved the Expert Soldier Badge in 2019 as a way for soldiers in occupations other than infantry and medical care to prove their combat readiness. (Juan King/Stars and Stripes)

By Thursday, the day devoted to testing the soldiers’ medical skills, just 25 competitors remained. The medical competition involved 10 tasks, such as calling for a medevac, providing care under fire and performing first aid for an open head wound in a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear environment.

The competition isn’t just about physical strength, but mental acuity, as well, Rosario Acosta said. He was most concerned about the test on treating a casualty for a spinal injury on Thursday.

“It has a lot of steps in order to do it and if you skip a step that’ll be a no-go,” he said. “Yesterday I had to memorize 11 lines of steps. It is all about memorization.”

Forby said she competed as a soldier, not just as a woman.

“I can push just as hard as you can,” she said. “I can push just as far, if not as farther as the males can. Any female soldier looking at it like ‘I can’t do it,’ I am the prime example of, ‘Yes, you can.’ You just have to put in the work.”

Next year, members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force will take part in the competition, U.S. Army Japan Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Dodson Jr. said Thursday at Sagami General Depot.

“Any soldier can do this, but soldiers who have attention to detail, are resilient and physically fit, will always be more successful,” he said.

U.S. Army Japan's first-ever Expert Soldier Badge competition began Monday, April 18, 2022, with a field of 121 from across Japan and Guam. By Thursday, just 25 competitors remained.

U.S. Army Japan's first-ever Expert Soldier Badge competition began Monday, April 18, 2022, with a field of 121 from across Japan and Guam. By Thursday, just 25 competitors remained. (Juan King/Stars and Stripes)

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Kelly Agee is a reporter and photographer at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years. She is a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program alumna and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Her previous Navy assignments have taken her to Greece, Okinawa, and aboard the USS Nimitz.
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