GIs scramble for prestigious infantry badge
Stars and Stripes June 19, 2007
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — There’s only one thing left to do as the M-240 machine gun’s ejection port cover closes, completing the weapon’s function check.
Do it again.
The soldiers at this year’s Expert Infantryman Badge competition don’t want a "no-go" on the M-240 function check lane — not with much harder tasks on some of the 33 other lanes that lie ahead.
Soldiers can fail only two tasks and cannot fail the same one twice if they hope to earn of the most sought-after noncombat badges in the Army.
On most tasks, soldiers took up the opportunities for a few last trial runs Tuesday.
"Since last month, we’ve been coming out to practice each lane and then going back and doing it on our own," said Pfc. Gabriel List, of 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment Bravo Company. "I can’t even count how many times we’ve done it."
Pass rates vary year to year. In 2006, about 60 percent of competitors earned their badges. Last year, the pass rate was far less and has been known to drop to around 20 percent.
About 70 of this year’s 260 competitors were eliminated on the first day of the three-day competition, said 2-9 Command Sgt. Maj. Bobby Gallardo, who ran the event.
As of Tuesday afternoon, organizers were hoping for roughly a 50 percent pass rate this year.
Most soldiers crammed into the most commonly practiced lanes on Tuesday morning, leaving the more difficult grenade lane for later.
Other lanes, like calling for and adjusting indirect fire, also caused problems for several soldiers. The indirect fire lane isn’t necessarily difficult, but it requires soldiers to complete several sequential steps with total precision.
It’s something a sergeant or a platoon leader would normally do, but it’s a practical skill that even a private should know, Gallardo said.
"Especially under fire, if your leadership is wounded, you need to be that Lone Ranger and get on the radio," Gallardo said.
Soldiers say they want the badge for many reasons; some cite promotion points, while others say it’s a symbol they’re among the best at their job.
"It’s also just to accomplish it," said Pfc. Jeremy Brister of the Honor Guard. "You’re overcoming the pressure and stress, and you’re getting it done."
Soldiers who pass the test will receive their badges at a ceremony Thursday.