CAMP FUJI, Japan –
Sgt. Thomas Hunt of the 9th Mission Support Command (MSC)’s U.S. Army Pacific Support Unit (USARPAC-SU) Detachment Japan, claimed his Expert Soldier Badge (ESB) in an official competition hosted by U.S. Army Japan from April 11 to April 23.
Hunt, who has been a part of the Army Reserve since October of 2021, thoroughly enjoys the competitive nature and challenge that events like the ESB have to offer.
“We used to do that kind of stuff in the Marine Corps,” Hunt said. ”We used to have competitions all the time and I used to really enjoy those.”
Hunt, who hails from Hebron, Connecticut, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2013, where he was on active duty for 5 years before leaving the Marines to get his business administration degree from the University of Maryland.
According to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the ESB is an Army special skills badge that is awarded to soldiers who complete the tough, realistic, and mission focused testing, but do not serve in the infantry, medical, or Special Forces branches. It demonstrates individual Soldier competencies and abilities to perform Skill Level 1 Warrior Tasks and brigade commander-selected tasks.
“It represented to me a lot of the stuff I missed in the military and hence why I came back,” Hunt shared. “I met people I would have never met and instantly became friends with them because we were going through something.”
When it comes to skills that make up the event, tasks such as day and night land navigation courses, ruck marches, 9-line MEDEVAC (medical evacuation), weapons qualifications, and plenty of other tasks are regularly a part of the event.
“It was definitely a lot harder, testing wise, than I thought it was going to be because everything has to be exactly as the book lays out,” Hunt said. “It's the first or the second thing in the military that I thought I could possibly fail at… It was a lot more difficult than I thought.”
While his command was looking for volunteers for support staff for the competition, Hunt raised his hand and asked to participate in the event.
“Luckily I have a really good command, they’re very supportive,” Hunt said. “I got an email back almost immediately from my commander saying, ‘Absolutely, if you want to try, no problem we will get you in.’”
It is common for some of the tasks to vary from event to event, based on the commander’s discretion.
“It’s up to a commander, I believe at a brigade level, who will pick five tasks for you to test out on instead of doing some of the more infantry based tasks,” Hunt explained. “Over here in Japan there was a large number of MPs (Military Police) that went through, so they added ‘how to apply progressive levels of force’ or we had ‘searching a detainee in a tactical environment’.”
When asked what the most challenging part of the entire ESB experience was for him, Hunt said it was the patrol lanes, simply because he had never programmed a radio before in his life.
“I had never plotted routes into those devices,” Hunt explained. “I had to learn it all in the small amount of time we had.”
Aside from the most challenging parts, there were events that Hunt particularly enjoyed.
“I enjoyed everything,” Hunt said. “But of course, probably like everyone, I enjoyed doing all the weapons lanes.”
He said being able to get technical with it and have little races with some of the other participants, while they were practicing, to see who could disassemble and reassemble weapons or operate them faster. Hunt says there were well over 100 participants in his ESB competition, but with the way it works, they weren’t competing against one another but instead against the Army standard.
In the aftermath of competing for the ESB, Hunt says there was much more to be gained from the experience than just the badge.
“I learned a lot, because I’ve only been in the Army for under a year,” Hunt shared. “I got to learn a lot of those basic warrior tasks the Army way and not just the Marine Corps way, which was great.”
“I’ve really missed the military, and a lot of the people in my unit are great and are super good at their job,” Hunt said. “I’m really grateful that the unit (USARPAC-SU) was out here.”
Hunt says that because everyone he works with at USARPAC-SU is so good at their job that sometimes it makes him feel like he’s a step behind, but the ESB gave him an opportunity to feel like he could do something more for his unit.
“This was my way of giving back… to show anyone else that there are Army Reserve Soldiers out here (in Japan),” Hunt explained. “Get our small little unit on the map and have people realize that we are out here.”
When asked how he felt participation in this competition could be advantageous to Army Reserve Soldier, Hunt said he believes that everyone could benefit from it tremendously.
“As an Army Reserve Soldier, we don’t always get the quality of training and time that active duty gets,” Hunt said. “This is the best opportunity for you to get out there and get good solid training with legitimate equipment, and you’re able to go out and do it with all the active duty (Soldiers) to see how you add up to your active duty counterparts.”
“I think it's a fantastic opportunity and I think everyone should do it, because even if you don’t earn the badge, you’re still getting all that training on the frontend,” Hunt said.
While it was a great individual accomplishment, Hunt could not stress enough how much his unit made this possible and how they deserve all the credit.
“I’m a product of my environment and my command has been amazing, from my commander to my first line sergeant,” Hunt shared. “They’ve all been super supportive, it's amazing and I want them to be recognized.”
Some of his support and command include Lt. Col Gosnell, Master Sgt. Marquardt, Sgt. 1st Class Phom and Sgt. Amataga.
“They put in a lot of work just to get me through there and support me… there were four or five people behind me working selflessly and they gained nothing for all the work they put in for getting me there,” Hunt went on. “It was a team effort, it wasn’t just me that went out there- to me, they worked harder than I did.”