CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait –
U.S. Soldiers mobilized with 90th Aviation Support Battalion, 11th Combat Aviation Brigade, hosted an Expert Soldier Badge test at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, July 2022.
The Expert Soldier Badge, or ESB, is a relatively new U.S. Army special skills badge, approved on June 14, 2019, before the first test event in November that year at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
Candidacy for ESB testing is open to a broader range of military occupational specialties than the more exclusive Expert Infantry Badge or Expert Field Medical Badge. To qualify for ESB testing, potential candidates must demonstrate excellence in fitness and up to 30 skill level 1 warrior tasks and battle drills. During the planning phase, the brigade commander selects five tasks from the unit's mission essential task list.
ESB events occur over five days and consist of various unit-level tasks. Participants were required to complete a physical fitness assessment, land navigation course, weapons lane, medical lane, patrol lane and 12-mile ruck march.
"This is the first U.S. Army Reserve ESB 'pure' that has been held in person," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Victor Matos Jr., an ESB validator with the Leader Training Brigade out of the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training.
A "pure" ESB test refers to a standalone iteration of the ESB assessment not held in conjunction with either EIB or EFMB testing. According to the Leader Training Brigade, the ESB shares around 80 percent of the tasks tested during EIB events, encouraging Army brigades to run both tests simultaneously.
To maximize Soldier safety and limit exposure to high summer temperatures in Kuwait during the first assessment, ESB administrators and candidates began the physical fitness assessment at midnight on July 9.
After concluding the fitness assessment, contestants were transported off-installation to attempt a daytime land navigation course. Those who passed returned after the sun had set to attempt a separate night course. Participants were tested on weapons, medical and patrol knowledge during lanes over each of the next three days. The test ended on the fifth day after the remaining participants completed a 12-mile weighted foot march in under three hours.
"We don't use these skills all the time," said Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Stuenkel, the senior enlisted leader of Operation Spartan Shield and 35th Infantry Division, mobilized as Task Force Spartan. "Taking this training back to units and getting those Soldiers on the weapon systems and out doing land navigation would get more excitement and participation for future tests."
The stress experienced from timed events in realistic environments across each training site conditioned Soldiers through simulated battlefield conditions where every second matters.
"The badge is awesome, but it's only secondary to the knowledge and skills these Soldiers are gaining that they can take back and train their squads on," Stuenkel said.
Out of hundreds of candidates and 71 participants, four Soldiers earned the ESB after meeting all required testing standards throughout the five-day assessment.
"We trained over 300 hundred Soldiers and only qualified a few of them," said Command Sgt. Maj. John Schmidt, the senior enlisted leader of 90th ASB. "We learned that if we prepared to give Soldiers tough, realistic training, they would want tough, realistic training."
Similar to other Army proficiency badges, each Soldier's inherent desire and determination to meet the test's standards and demonstrate their expertise are the most important aspects of success.
"The fail rate for this ESB test was high due to the nature of the test," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Maverick Maxcy, commander of Charlie Company, 90th ASB. "It is meant to find the exceptional few who are worthy to be 'expert soldiers.'"
90th ASB, mobilized as Task Force Rattlers in support of 11th CAB, began coordination of the ESB weeks before the actual testing commenced. Many ESB graders were noncommissioned officers with 90th ASB or 11th CAB. ESB validators were required to train these graders, assess proposed testing measures and qualify 11th CAB to meet ESB examination standards.
"If unit leadership wants to organize an ESB test while mobilized, start within the first three months of arriving in-country," said Maxcy. "Work out the details ahead of time and plan for the event more than 90 days out."
The leadership of 90th ASB awarded the Expert Soldier Badge to each of the four Soldiers who completed the test during a ceremony hosted on July 13 at Camp Buehring.
U.S. Army Capt. Ethan Raebel, the executive officer of Bravo Company, 7th Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, is from Kennewick, Washington.
U.S. Army Sgt. Javier Rodriguez, a supply sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Florida National Guard, is from Manhattan, New York.
U.S. Army Spc. Jake Gardiner, a joint network node operator with 116th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, Idaho National Guard, is from Boise, Idaho.
U.S. Army Jeran Jorgenson, a tank crewmember with 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 163rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, Montana National Guard, is from Helena, Montana.
"If you want the Expert Soldier Badge, you need to be proactive," said Jorgenson. "Talk to your noncommissioned officers, your leadership, and find the equipment you need to train on. Know your tasks, conditions and standards front to back. Push yourself, have fun, and never give up.”