First, let’s just get the basics out of the way. The Expert Infantryman’s Badge, known in everyday parlance as the E-I-B, is a badge awarded to infantrymen and special forces soldiers after undergoing a series of infantry tasks over the course of a few days, usually a work-week. Although the testing standards change every decade or so, there are are common elements to all of them. The EIB test will assess: physical fitness, marksmanship, weapons proficiency, common soldier skills (camouflage, medical, communications, etc.), land navigation, and foot marching. The badge was introduced during World War II by General George Marshall as a way of honoring infantrymen, who were known to have a particularly harsh and often thankless job. Wearing a badge that sets you apart from other soldiers was an easy way of raising morale, while also giving soldiers another reason to train hard.
Also, EIB holders earned an extra $5 a month.
For more on the history of the EIB, see this article from the Infantry School.
I first learned about the EIB early in infantry training at Fort Benning in 2001. It was probably at 30th AG, lounging around in the barracks waiting three weeks for my class date to begin. There were plenty of know-it-alls who knew everything there was to be known about the Army. They usually carried around this giant book called “Hooah” that was full of pictures and short missives on everything exciting in the Army. There were pages and pages of special skill badges and tabs. I’m sure that’s where I first saw the EIB.
I didn’t really understand what it was though until later in training. Most of my Drill Sergeants had Combat Infantryman Badges – which is like the EIB, but with a wreath. The CIB is awarded for being an infantryman who engaged in active ground combat – essentially going to war and doing the job of an infantryman. Most of my Drill Sergeants were Gulf War veterans. A few of the Drill Sergeants in the company, however, did not have CIBs, they had EIBs – just the naked rifle.
Towards the end of training, I remember being on a formation run. My Drill Sergeant – who incidentally would wind up deploying to Iraq with me a year and a half later – was calling cadence. He had both an EIB and CIB. He was free-styling, just singing whatever came to his mind. Some soldiers have that talent. He started singing:
(Italics is my Drill Sergeant, bold is the soldiers’ reply)
C-I-B / C-I-B
On my chest / On my chest
Hell no / Hell no
HELL NO! / HELL NO!
Don’t want it / Don’t want it
Don’t need it / Don’t need it
You can have it / You can have it
E-I-B / E-I-B
E-I-B! / E-I-B!
Hell yeah / Hell yeah
Hell yeah! / Hell yeah!
We can take it / We can take it
We can make it / We can make it
I’m pretty sure I understood immediately what he was saying. The CIB is something you really don’t want to get. To earn it, you’re really putting yourself out there. It is one of the proudest things you can earn in the Army, and most infantrymen I know will tell you that the CIB is the award they are most proud of.
But it comes at an incredible cost.
Which takes me to the point I wanted to make here, which is the EIB is always compared to the CIB. A soldier is not allowed to wear both and has to choose which to wear. Infantrymen tend wear a CIB if they have it, as it is generally held in higher regard than the EIB. This is due partly to scarcity. Before Iraq and Afghanistan, and with few exceptions, there was only the Gulf War, Panama and Grenada. Those were places that infantrymen could earn their CIB, but those were short wars. Not that many CIBs (relative to now) were pinned. Then there is Vietnam, which is going back pretty far.
When I got to my unit in 2001, only senior NCOs and officers had CIBs from “back in the day.” Most of the rubber-meets-the-road infantrymen sported EIBs.
Now, with over ten years of war behind us and thousands of CIBs pinned on the chests of young infantrymen, they are not so scarce. In a very Seussian-way, it is not that uncommon to see someone who has both a CIB and an EIB choosing to wear his EIB to distinguish himself from his peers.
It is true, that for the most part, the CIB is an award for being in the right MOS at the right place at the right time. The EIB, on the other hand, requires a measure of skill and performance.
Which gets me to the next thing which I’ll discuss tomorrow: is the EIB the “mark” of an infantryman?