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Pfc. Bradley Roberts of 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment, receives his Expert Infantryman’s Badge from Staff Sgt. Christopher Scott at a Camp Casey ceremony on Thursday. After testing earlier this week, 209 soldiers from all over South Korea received the prized badge.
Pfc. Bradley Roberts of 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment, receives his Expert Infantryman’s Badge from Staff Sgt. Christopher Scott at a Camp Casey ceremony on Thursday. After testing earlier this week, 209 soldiers from all over South Korea received the prized badge. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Soldiers who gathered Thursday night at 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry headquarters to accept the coveted Expert Infantryman’s Badge differed on which of the 36 qualifying tasks were toughest.

Some practiced throwing grenades during their free time. Others assembled and disassembled electronics well into the night, and possibly in their dreams.

Of 344 soldiers who vied for the distinction, the 209 who wore the light blue and gold badge Thursday cited practice beyond the requirements as the reason they succeeded in earning it after testing this week.

“We didn’t relax at any station, and we would do them all three, four times,” said Pvt. James Lee.

There are high-ranking officers and sergeant majors in the Army who needed two or three attempts to earn the badge. Two months out of boot camp, Lee earned his badge on the first shot.

The 61 percent pass rate in this round is unusually high for an honor that sometimes eludes as much as 80 percent of a given class. Last year, just less than half passed.

Fifty-one soldiers earned unofficial “true blue” honors, meaning they made no “no-go” mistakes requiring them to repeat a task. Two “no-gos” on any task disqualifies a soldier.

Expert Infantry Badge tasks include firing weapons, throwing grenades, calling for fire, rendering first aid and clearing mines, among other skills.

The higher pass rate was at least partially by design; Command Sgt. Major Jason Silsby set his pass rate target at 70 percent, stocking the course with training aids and providing ample space for the course’s 27 stations.

None of the tasks is supposed to go beyond the scope of any properly trained infantry soldier. It’s the concentration of so many tasks at once that trips up some hopefuls.

“The challenge is not only performing tasks in the proper steps and sequences, it’s performing them quickly,” said Spc. Ryan Huskey of the U.N. Command Security Battalion. “At the same time, you’re nervous and you don’t want to get a ‘no-go.’”

Several soldiers credited the knowledge they gained from previous tries as part of the reason they earned their badges Thursday.

“I just stayed more focused this year and had good training from my lieutenant back at the company,” said Spc. Joseph Pratcher, of 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry’s Company B.

After a speech by Brig. Gen. William Forrester, officers and noncommissioned officers swarmed the newly minted expert infantrymen.

They pinned the badges on their soldiers — some with a “love pat” that will no doubt stay with the soldiers for a few days. Past recipients say the sense of accomplishment lasts throughout a career.

“After the first day, I didn’t think I would make it,” said Lee, wearing the badge even before he gets to wear his stripe. “They were dropping like flies. But my group took really good care of me in making sure I passed.”

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