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1st Lt. Keith Bell of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment's Headquarters Headquarters Company competes in the individual movement techniques section of the Expert Infantry Badge assessment at Camp Casey, South Korea, on Tuesday.

1st Lt. Keith Bell of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment's Headquarters Headquarters Company competes in the individual movement techniques section of the Expert Infantry Badge assessment at Camp Casey, South Korea, on Tuesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

1st Lt. Keith Bell of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment's Headquarters Headquarters Company competes in the individual movement techniques section of the Expert Infantry Badge assessment at Camp Casey, South Korea, on Tuesday.

1st Lt. Keith Bell of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment's Headquarters Headquarters Company competes in the individual movement techniques section of the Expert Infantry Badge assessment at Camp Casey, South Korea, on Tuesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

Sgt. Robert Haynes, 26, of Melbourne, Fla., throws a grenade during an Expert Infantry Badge assessment at Camp Casey. Haynes is with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment's Headquarters Headquarters Company.

Sgt. Robert Haynes, 26, of Melbourne, Fla., throws a grenade during an Expert Infantry Badge assessment at Camp Casey. Haynes is with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment's Headquarters Headquarters Company. (Seth Robson / S&S)

A member of the opposition force fires a training laser at a competitor in the individual movement techniques section of the Expert Infantry Badge assessment.

A member of the opposition force fires a training laser at a competitor in the individual movement techniques section of the Expert Infantry Badge assessment. (Seth Robson / S&S)

First Lt. Chris McCarver, left, 24, of Memphis, Tenn., and Sgt. Joshua McDonald, 28, of Imbler, Ore., both of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment's Company B, are tested Tuesday on camouflage skills.

First Lt. Chris McCarver, left, 24, of Memphis, Tenn., and Sgt. Joshua McDonald, 28, of Imbler, Ore., both of the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment's Company B, are tested Tuesday on camouflage skills. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP CASEY, South Korea — More than 300 soldiers lobbed grenades, fired machine guns and ran obstacle courses in an effort to earn the coveted Expert Infantryman Badge here this week.

By the end of the day, 167 soldiers had earned the badge — far more than the usual success rate, said 1st Sgt. Kevin Perondi, one of the overseers. Armywide, he said, just 20 percent to 30 percent of those who take the test earn the distinction.

And earning the opportunity to test was even more difficult. Even to take Wednesday’s tests, soldiers had to complete a 12-mile road march in three hours and achieve at least 70 percent in each area of the Army’s physical fitness test, said Perondi, with Headquarters Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment.

They also had to achieve an expert score of 36 of 40 shots in day and night weapons qualification and complete a day and night land navigation test using a compass and global positioning system, he said.

Only soldiers with the “11-series” military occupational specialty can compete for the badge. That includes infantrymen and mortar men — who also must score expert on their gunners’ exam.

The soldiers completed five days of training on 34 tasks last week. This week, they had to accomplish each of the tasks in the correct sequence to qualify for the badge, Perondi said.

Usually, just one in five soldiers will pass, said Perondi, who took 12 years to get his EIB.

“The longer you stay in the Army, the harder it gets because you pick up shortcuts and bad habits,” the New Orleans native said.

First Lt. Keith Bell, 24, of Atlanta tried to pass the individual movements techniques portion Tuesday afternoon. As an assessor watched, he bounded between sandbags while another soldier shot at him with laser-training gear attached to an M-16 rifle.

It was to replicate moving under direct fire: “Low crawl, high crawl and three- to five-second rush trying to close with and destroy the enemy position without being killed themselves,” Perondi explained.

“It’s a pain in the [butt],” said an out-of-breath Bell, covered in grass, sweat and dirt after completing the run.

The testing is more a mental than physical challenge, Bell said.

“You have to memorize things in sequence and you are always under a time standard,” he said. “They will say you have 30 seconds to perform a functions check, load and fire your M-16 or M-4, correct malfunctions and then unload.”

Sgt. Robert Haynes, 26, of Melbourne, Fla., spent part of Tuesday afternoon running around a series of obstacles lobbing training grenades at several targets.

First came the long throw of 35 yards at a man-shaped target. Candidates had to land the grenade inside an eight-yard circle surrounding the target — close enough to kill the enemy.

Then Haynes ran up to a sandbag bunker and dropped a grenade in a small opening. The last and hardest part involved lobbing a grenade about 45 feet into a small foxhole surrounded by rocks and debris that deflected seemingly accurate throws.

Haynes described the grenade test as “a lot of fun.”

Soldiers from 2nd Infantry Division units such as the Special Troops Battalion; 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment; 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team; Brigade Troops Battalion; and 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment as well as 8th Army’s Tango Security and Honor Guard were involved in the testing, Perondi said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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