Dawn had not yet broken. A group of exhausted noncommissioned officers gathered near Hilton Field on Fort Jackson, South Carolina. They shared some light chatter, but the eyes of the NCOs spoke much louder.
There were only two real emotions visible: relief and despondence. Zero seven was the deadline to complete the 12-mile road march across the undulating hills of Fort Jackson.
However, across the finish tape was yet one more Warrior Task to complete. Upon shedding the 45-pound rucksack, which was now heavier from the morning rain, the spent Soldiers needed to evaluate a casualty and evacuate them by sled across an open field. The last task symbolic for the final expression of what it means to be a Soldier -- to never leave a fallen comrade.
The scene that unfolds above depicts the final testing events for the Expert Infantry Badge (EIB), a badge that Army Reserve Drill Sergeant, Staff Sgt. Clint Myers of Task Force Marshall (1-518th Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division [Initial Entry Training]), earned through grit and determination.
When Myers, a Kingsport, Tennessee native, started his quest for the coveted EIB, he was part of a large group, 123 Soldiers to be exact. Out of those 123, only two represented the Army Reserve. As Myers crossed the finish line of the road march and completed his last task, only 16 other competitors were at his side, all of which were Active Duty.
The limited numbers of Soldiers who earned the EIB that day is understandable considering all the requirements of the 5-day competition: qualify as an expert on the rifle, complete the Army Physical Fitness Test with at least 80 percent in all categories, finish a 12-mile road march in three hours or less, and complete 30 Warrior Training Task lanes/stations without more than two errors, or NO-GOs.
According to Army-wide statistics, less than 10 percent of all Infantry Soldiers have achieved the honor of wearing the badge that encompasses all that makes up an Infantry Soldier in United States Army. With statistics like that, Myers said he didn’t go into the competition with a lot of confidence. “At the start, I was skeptical of it. I didn’t feel prepared for it.”
However, mentor and fellow drill sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Gordon, urged him to go. “He told me, ‘Even if you don’t make it, it’s valuable training that is irreplaceable,’” said Myers.
So Myers went into the competition seeking the training value as much as the iconic badge. He used every moment of the two-week EIB train-up he could to learn and improve. By the second week of training, Myers said he saw a few people taking it easy. However, Myers wasn’t that confident.
“I kept hammering at each station, kept hammering at it, kept hammering at it.” He would go to a station thinking he addressed a previous error, only to make another one. “It enticed me to keep training. So, I’d go to the next station, and then the next station…” Over and over, he kept training.
All his practice didn’t have a chance to make him less nervous when the competition started though. Because, right out of the gate, Myers got his first NO-GO at station one: grenades.
“You can be the best Soldier in the world or the crappiest Soldier in the world, and you can pass or fail it. It all depends on whether or not you get that good roll or bounce…and my first time up, I NO-GOed it.”
So right away, he was playing with one strike and fighting the inevitable negative, self-defeating thoughts. “Oh great. I’m going to fail. Guess I won’t have to go through all this after all.”
Yet, he kept going. Unfortunately though, at station two or three, which was resection, Myers only raised his anxiety level. “I was still all torn up about the grenade station, and then, I NO-GOed again…so in my first two or three stations, I had two NO-GOs, and the hard ones had not even come up yet!”
Myers refocused. He had 27 more stations to complete with no errors. “This is why it’s so difficult. If you do the littlest thing or forget the tiniest detail, you get a NO-GO.”
Being a drill sergeant, attention to detail had been instilled into Myers from time on the trail. So he took his two NO-GOs and moved on, determined not to quit.
Myers said serving as an Army Reserve drill sergeant may have even given him an edge.
“As a Reservist, we are always pumped every time we come out [to training].” And the never-quit attitude that drill sergeants are known for, certainly added the necessary grit to successfully navigate and pass the remaining 27 stations. “I don’t think I would have had the motivation, after getting two NO-GOs, to actually push through if I wasn’t a drill sergeant.”
Looking back, Myers said he is thankful for the opportunity to compete, but he cannot lie, it wasn’t easy. “It was the most stressful thing I have ever been through.”
That doesn’t mean the Army Reserve Soldier wouldn’t recommend the challenge of an EIB competition to other Soldiers though. “Please just go. Don’t worry about being nervous. Of course you will be nervous. But, the two-week train-up that you get is just irreplaceable.”
Myers said the experience of competing is worth all the pain and anxiety.
“It dramatically changes you as a drill sergeant, and Soldier, because you are looking for all that attention to detail that is in the regulations. You have to do it a certain way. It will break you of those bad habits that sometimes show up.”
The chance to learn and break bad habits certainly changed Myers. For now, he will not be defined as just a Soldier or drill sergeant. Now, he is part of a brotherhood who are not defined as Active Duty or Reserve, but as Expert Infantry Soldiers.