Infantry: Experts Get No Respect

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February 16, 2010: The U.S. Army is trying to revive interest in its Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB). Introduced in 1943, infantrymen must pass a rigorous battery of tests to prove they are an expert at infantry skills, and worthy of the EIB. There was a problem with this, however. The badge, with a wreath added, becomes the combat infantry badge (the CIB, instituted in late 1941). This is a much more prestigious award, as the recipient must have been in combat (for at least 30 days, although the army has been flexible with that). The CIB is a big deal, and soldiers are not allowed to wear the EIB and CIB (which takes precedence anyway) at the same time.

As a result, there was never a lot of enthusiasm, during wartime, to go through the considerable effort to win the EIB. But after 1972, with the introduction of the volunteer army, it was hoped that all these voluntary infantrymen would be encouraged to go for the EIB. After all, there was no more war, and little likelihood of one in the aftermath of Vietnam. So no CIBs for a while. The army encouraged infantrymen to go for the EIB, it being known that this would help with promotions. Before September 11, 2001, 6-7,000 EIBs were awarded each year (out of less than 100,000 active duty and reserve troops eligible for it.) Most of those earning the EIB were one term (usually four years) infantrymen, who would get out of the army with an EIB, and a sense of accomplishment. After September 11, 2001, it became possible to earn the CIB, and interest in the EIB declined sharply.

It wasn't just the availability of the CIB. Troops had less time to prepare for the EIB tests. There was also the feeling that, with all infantry units headed for combat anyway, it was more important to prepare for that, including acquiring skills that weren't even covered by the EIB (learning a little Arabic, how to spot roadside bombs and just trading tips with guys who had been in combat.)

But now the EIB tests have been modified to include new skills, based on recent combat experience. It's also been made known that, for promotion to senior NCO ranks, holders of the EIB will again have an edge. Before September 11, 2001, infantrymen rarely got promoted to E-7 or higher without an EIB. That disappeared as units went into combat, where experience under fire became, as it should, the primary qualification. But the army recognizes that being expert at key infantry skills is still important. So, while in the past, up to 25 percent of infantrymen would earn the EIB, the army is trying to get it from its current low (under ten percent) rate, to the near the old one.

 


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