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The Sow and the Expert Infantryman’s Badge

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Expert Infantryman’s Badge testing comes once a year for young Infantrymen.  For those of you outside the Infantry its the large silver flintlock against a blue background worn above everything else on the left side of the uniform.  There’s even a subdued version so everyone you meet can tell at a glance that you are not a POG.  As privates in the peacetime Infantry 99% of our NCOs had one, usually perched way up high above an Air Assault Badge and/or Airborne Wings.  Everybody wanted one whether they admitted it or not.  Earning one was a stress filled series of hands on tests that drug on for a week and had to be performed to a standard of absolute perfection with a dose of blind luck thrown in for good measure.

The year I got mine there were twenty-three tasks tested.  One of them was Land Navigation.  In order to get a “Go” you had to find five out of seven points scattered over a two square mile area in three hours or less.  Add in the god-forsaken terrain of Hawaii and you have an exhausting afternoon of sweat, high blood pressure and tears.  After finding what you hoped were your seven points you reported to the cadre, turned in your test sheet and waited to hear either the word “Go” or the feared fuel of your nightmares, “No-Go.”  A No-Go meant you would be given an opportunity to re-test, a second No-Go meant your dream of wearing an EIB crashed and burned and your uniform would be POG-like for another year.

We had all received our results and were waiting to get trucked back to the barracks.  We’d compiled the results, rejoiced with our friends and commiserated with those who’d No-Go’d.  There was a rush in the last few minutes as the three hours ticked away.  One of us hadn’t returned.  A few minutes later our poor bedraggled buddy came straggling in.  We got the gory details on the truck ride home.

There was a point about a click and a half from the start point on a small island in the river at the bottom of a gulch, right beside a cherry guava tree.  After writing down the point number he’d climbed into the cherry guava tree to grab a snack.  Upon getting into the tree he heard snuffling and grunting below.  Looking down he saw baby pigs grazing on the fruit that had fallen.  Then the old sow showed up.  Hawaii was filled with feral pigs, I’ve seen them as big as 250 or 300 pounds with impressive tusks and always a bad attitude.  He tried throwing cherry guavas at them to drive them off but eventually realized he was compounding the problem.  The old sow and her thirteen piglets grazed happily below his feet while the clock ran out.

He was broken hearted, land nav wasn’t the easiest task for him and now he had to re-test.  Fortunately the re-test was Saturday morning.  The testing would end on Friday with a 12 mile road march in under three hours, followed immediately by Disassemble, Reassemble and perform a function check on your M16A1.  Saturday, those poor few who had bolo’d land nav and the road march would be given their retest.  By Friday afternoon my buddy was still in, if he passed land nav he had his EIB.  He was also a basket case stressing out over it.

I celebrated earning my EIB Friday night and the first rays of light Saturday morning found my hung-over ass climbing the fence into the training area near the land nav course.  I linked up with my buddy at a pre-arranged spot and we started out.  If we got caught our dreams of wearing an EIB were gone and we would be wearing skeeter wings again while doing 45 and 45.  My brother was more important hands down, this particular ethical problem was no problem.  There is an ancient adage in the Infantry “If you ain’t cheatin’ and lyin’, you ain’t tryin’.  If you get caught, you ain’t tryin’ hard enough.”  The exact line that delineates is a gray area somewhere between the Rule of Law and Selfless Service.  You can see where I drew it.  He did all the work, I just double checked it, we discussed routes and stayed out of sight using every tactical trick we knew to move around with out encountering anyone who would ask questions.

Later that week we stood tall in the formation while the orders were read and our EIBs were pinned on.  We’d earned much more than a mere award.

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About the Author:

I joined the Army in 1988, served in the 25th IL (L) , 24th ID, The Infantry Training Brigade, The 82nd Airborne Division, Ft Polk and again The 82nd Division until I retired in 2008. I was a mortar maggot and retired with the rank of Master Sergeant.
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