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Monday, June 22, 2020

The great football coach Vince Lombardi said it best: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” The U.S. Army catches excellence in its building and maintenance of readiness, execution of combat operations, and support missions other than war important to national leaders. At the brigade level, a high operational tempo requires a pursuit of excellence at every opportunity from the team leader to brigade commander and command sergeant major.

In its simplest form, excellence is a state that is a cut above the average or mediocre. It can, however, be wrongly associated with a mastery of the fundamentals and constantly starting over from the beginning. Excellence is about doing things well routinely and establishing a baseline to maintain and grow. Too often, units miss opportunities by looking at training as distinct events with singular purposes. Expert Infantryman Badge training and testing is such an example.

Within the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Carson, Colorado, a chance to commit to a training opportunity of individual soldiers and setting an example of training management supports the leadership philosophies of the brigade commander and commanders of higher headquarters. It is an opportunity to build a cohesive and disciplined unit as well. A cohesive and disciplined unit achieves excellence on and off the battlefield and commits itself to a command climate of mutual trust that wins.

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A soldier with the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, is pinned with the Expert Infantryman Badge by his wife after completing testing at Fort Carson, Colorado.
(Credit: U.S. Army/Staff SGt. Neysa Canfield)

Tool for Success

Cohesive and disciplined units use tools to plan, resource and execute training. Army Doctrine Publication 7-0: Training outlines the principles of unit training, providing a guideline and tool to aid success. The principles are: commanders and other leaders are responsible for training; NCOs train individuals, crews and small teams; train to standard; train as you will fight; train while operating; train fundamentals first; train to develop adaptability; understand the operational environment; train to sustain; and train to maintain.

Within the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the brigade and battalion staffs applied the principles and leveraged the planning prior to execution of Expert Infantryman Badge training and testing to develop NCOs on the Army’s eight-step training model. The eight-step training model is a tool to aid in the training of leaders and units.

Sustainers, such as mechanics, cooks and ammunition specialists, utilized the preparation phase to certify leaders on ammunition supply point procedures and reinforce good habits, such as NCOs conducting pre-combat checks and inspections, and soldiers using as-issued equipment to build confidence. 

During the execution phase of training, soldiers conducted physical readiness training at every station during the train-up to prepare for the EIB Physical Fitness Assessment; sustainers conducted twice-daily distribution platoon patrols to and from the land navigation site with a provided task and purpose and followed troop-leading procedures; and leaders who were identified as doing well were used to train less-experienced soldiers.

Grabbing the Opportunity

The brigade used the buildup to Expert Infantryman Badge testing as an opportunity taken to pursue excellence. The training schedule presents an opportunity for leaders to catch excellence, but requires thought to not miss the opportunity.

Training schedules fill quickly, and sometimes a desire to maximize training leads to filling all time with singular events and not providing adequate time for necessary training events and missions. A way to maximize training is to combine events with increasing levels of intensity. Expert Infantryman Badge training and testing lasts several weeks and typically is one station and one event at a time. One station and one event at a time may offer focus, but there are opportunities to take advantage and direct focus.

As a soldier transitions from station to station throughout a day, and lane to lane throughout the week, it is imperative to provide enough training aids and references to ensure focused training, multiple repetitions and reinforcement of good habits. As training and testing progress, soldiers are removed due to reasons ranging from administrative actions, not meeting prerequisites and not being competitive for the badge.

Excellence in Training

Within the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, soldiers continued to train during test week by executing separate, identical lanes and completing a 12-mile foot march. Participants knew the standard was excellence in training to prepare for upcoming collective events, and infantrymen completed three weeks of training to the highest standards regardless of earning the badge.

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A soldier pulls a simulated casualty during Expert Infantryman Badge training at Fort Carson, Colorado
(Credit: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

Brigade combat teams pursue excellence daily and balance a high operational tempo and training priorities. Every year, brigade combat teams allocate land, ammunition, training aids and time—the most important resource—to conduct Expert Infantryman Badge testing. This considerable investment yields, on average, 96 awarded Expert Infantrymen Badges, or 12% of a brigade’s eligible candidates. The remaining 88% are soldiers who require retraining within a tightly scheduled and already committed training schedule that may or may not be addressed. At future training events, leaders observe training scars that range from soldiers’ inability to communicate a spot report, label a grid coordinate on a map or know how to evacuate a casualty.

During collective training and culminating training events at combat training centers, too often, units and observer coach/trainers spend considerable time addressing individual training skills that atrophied over previous months. Wasted time and missed opportunities contribute to atrophy. Expert Infantryman Badge training and testing is a way a brigade sets the right example, but it is the daily leadership of NCOs that reinforces the training philosophy.

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Col. Dave Zinn, right, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division commander, awards 1st Lt. Ted Gallagher the Expert Infantryman Badge.
(Credit: U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)

High Standard

NCO leadership, like that shown during Expert Infantryman Badge training, is imperative to maintain a high standard during training events, to not let opportunity pass by and to invest in twofers and “threefers.” Twofers and threefers are training events that yield increased results in exposing soldiers to more repetitions, giving them more experience and helping them build more confidence. An example is a rifle qualification range that includes the receipt of an order, publishing a squad-level order, a foot march to the range and back, a medical evacuation lane on-site, rifle qualification and after-action review.

The result is fitter soldiers who beat training atrophy and have a structurally sound base to continue to build upon. They can catch excellence.