Should an Infantry Platoon Leader already have a CIB before deploying?


War in 2014/2015 was very much about just trying to get outside of the wire. It wasn’t easy. In 2003, a quick check in with the CP via ICOM was enough to get you to at least leave the wall of your firebase to investigate something just outside – alone. Now, the massive CONOPs produced for a mission are sent up days and weeks in advance of SP, and scrutinized by just about everyone in the chain of command and beyond before getting the ok. To get outside of the wire feels like a victory in itself.

And to engage the enemy, a blessing from above.

During this last deployment, I watched with interest as other lieutenants jockeyed to get on a mission – any mission – mostly so they could score a Combat Infantryman Badge. In other deployments, firefights were more prevalent, and entire units would get blanket CIB orders. Today, there’s a bunch of paperwork that has to get done, sworn statements, PowerPoint slides depicting the fight, and drone footage if possible. The requirements at times become forensic!

So to get to the point I led with in the post’s title, young infantry platoon leaders who didn’t have a CIB tended to position themselves however they could and within the scope of their influence to get on missions. This, in turn, usually meant a mission for the platoon or at least a part of the platoon, putting them out there and at risk. In plainspeak, the eagerness to get “after it” and earn combat badges acts as a significant influence on a leader’s motivation to volunteer or otherwise try to get outside of the wire and on mission.

On the other hand, as a platoon leader who already had a CIB from a prior deployment, I felt no urge to volunteer myself or the platoon for any unnecessary missions just to get us out there and perhaps have a chance at getting the award. I often wonder how my behavior might have been different if I didn’t have a CIB. Would it have resulted in me jockeying the platoon to get out more? What might have happened?

In saying all of this, I’m not putting a value judgement on whether this is a good or bad thing. Maybe we want young PLs to be trying to get out as much as possible (although I tend to think not). And even with all of the jockeying, I didn’t see any PL needlessly put his soldiers at risk for some metal – although the point of this post is to say that it is precisely that which is possible.

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Combat Infantry Badge

CIB

Week ending December 7, 2014  

‘Combat Infantry Badge’ won the week as the most searched term that brought people to the blog. I’m not sure what accounts for the influx – although being deployed now (as opposed to earlier in the GWOT), getting a CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge) has become (for some), a labor of love and patience. Anxious junior infantrymen who want to be tested – and also want to return home with the rifle and wreath on their chest – are warned by senior infantrymen that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be, not worth the potential cost, and don’t worry, hang around long enough and you’ll get it anyway.

There is also a legal-esque approach to the CIB in a retrograding environment. Where blanket orders may have once rained down a unit, today there is often a “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement for the award.

Anyway, I’ve written about the CIB in a few different contexts in the past, which is where the readers probably ended up. Below are the articles.

Why Deployment Experience Really Matters

EIB Week: “Expert” vs. “Combat” Infantryman Badge

EIB Week: Is the EIB the “mark” of the Infantryman?

CIB Ceremony (January 7, 2004)

How can I get my CIB if I lost my paperwork and my iPerms doesn’t have it?

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Why Deployment Experience Really Matters

End of War

It’s been interesting reading the reactions to the blog post by soon-to-be-forced-out Major Slider on The Best Defense. Major Slider is one of the hundreds of Majors who was selected to be cut from the Army as a result of the recent Officer Separation Board (OSB). The OSB saga and some of the defense of Major Slider, much of which revolved around valorous combat experience – coupled with the fact that I’m currently deployed – started me thinking about the actual value of combat experience.

When I was coming through OCS and IBOLC, I remember having lots of conversations with young Second Lieutenants who were wary about potentially missing their opportunity to deploy, since it was clear we were teetering on the tail end of the long war. Much of that angst – I think – stemmed from wanting “the stuff” that comes from a combat deployment; the combat patch, the Combat Infantryman Badge, and the bucket of end-of-tour awards. For good or for ill, the Army fosters a culture of “badge envy” and the immediate value of a soldier, especially in combat arms, is first assessed by the things sewn, pinned, and velcro’d on the uniform.

Back then, in my infinite mustang wisdom, I tried my best to explain that it isn’t really going to matter if you deploy or not, that the Army moves on and will value and appreciate skill and leadership above whether or not you deployed – more a function of chance and when you were born than any actionable trait. More bluntly, having not deployed would not be held against you in an Army transitioning out of war. I believed that then, and I still do now.

What has changed – and this is partly a function of being currently deployed – is that I think I may have undervalued wartime service. While it’s true that every deployment is different, what remains unchanged is that whatever your job is – infantry, admin, medical, etc. – when you are deployed, you are doing that job more frequently and more real than when you were back home. Weekends don’t exist the same way they do while deployed than when you are home. You are accountable for your equipment twenty-four hours a day, not just until you turn it back into the arms room or the supply cage. There is a constant rotation of duties that is usually measured in hours between the next guard shift, not days – or weeks – between your next staff duty.

Combat operations occur at a frequency greater than the intensity of field training. You may run multiple missions a day, or operations that take place over twenty-four hours at a time, requiring planning and preparation days before the event starts. Each mission is analyzed and assessed through an after-action review process, which if done well, fine tunes the unit’s techniques, tactics, and procedures, making the unit more efficient and effective.

In all this, you are working in close proximity with the same people for hours a day and days that bleed into weeks and months. Conflicts arise and good leaders find ways to stay effective. Personnel management and more importantly – personality and ego management – becomes key to getting anything done. Knowing who to grease and who to avoid becomes critical to the deployed soldier navigating an unrivaled bureaucracy that involves multiple military services, countries, and languages.

All this is done in an adverse environment where someone is actively trying to kill you. At the end, the soldier that emerges is one that has done his or her job in a focused way for a prolonged period of time. Skills are learned and experience gets buried deep into the reservoir of the soldier, ready to be brought out in the future if called upon.

Put simply, the deployed soldier has done his job harder, faster, and longer than his counterpart who hasn’t deployed. That experience is valuable.

All that said, deployment experience does not necessarily create experts in anything other than that experience. One cannot simply say “I’ve been deployed” and hand wave necessary training or assume that anything done once is done forever. Rather, deployment experience is simply an indicator that  a soldier has done his or her job in a focused way for a sustained amount of time – which is more valuable than I once gave credit.

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EIB Week: Is the EIB the “mark” of the infantryman?

Photo from the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook Page
Photo from the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook Page.

Whenever I hear commanders talking to soldiers trying to pump them up for EIB, they’ll usually say something about the EIB being the “mark of the infantryman.” Back in the barracks, some NCO will tell an old myth that the Springfield rifle on the EIB badge, if you look real closely, is cocked, ready to fire. Earning the EIB “primes you” for war. And then if you look at the CIB, you’ll notice that the cocking lever is forward, that rifle has been fired. You have seen the white elephant and survived. 

None of that is true by the way – the rifles and cocking levers on both the EIB and CIB are exactly the same.

But the myth is stronger than the reality.

Throughout the year, “the standard” that people refer to when discussing an infantry task is usually the EIB standard.

Take, for example, the foot march. The EIB foot march is a 12 mile movement wearing fatigues, load-bearing equipment, helmet, rifle, and rucksack that usually weighs about 35 pounds without water. To pass the EIB foot march, a soldier needs to complete the twelve miles in under three hours.

Anyone who has done the twelve mile foot march understands that in order to pass that event, it usually takes a lot of shuffling or running to keep under time – especially if that soldier is short, like me.

But if you asked anyone what the foot march standard is for the infantry (there isn’t one), they would likely respond with “12 miles under 3 hours with a 35 pound ruck. EIB standard.”

Out in the field, an infantryman’s ruck usually weighs well over 35 pounds. Field movements – be they tactical foot marches or patrols – are rarely conducted at a 15 minute mile pace, i.e.; EIB standard. They are usually slow and deliberate, designed to preserve the fighting capacity of the infantryman when he arrives at the objective. Plus, hauling ass with +70 pounds of gear just isn’t that easy.

My point, is that for good or for nil, the EIB standards become adopted as de-facto infantry standards, when that is just not the case. If they were the infantry standards, infantrymen would not be able to leave Fort Benning without their EIB.

As I wrote about yesterday, the original intent of the EIB was to give infantry soldiers a way to distinguish themselves from other, less physically demanding jobs in the military. Through hard training and a tough, fair assessment, an infantryman can proudly wear the rifle on and everyone would know that he/she has done something hard and that the job that he/she does is hard.

Today, when a unit conducts EIB, there is usually a long train-up period to the event to sharpen soldiers’ skills. Even if a soldier fails to pass the assessment, he/she receives good, in-depth training on basic tasks, which has become the reason the event is so important today. For many infantrymen, EIB training is the only time they’ll get their hands on some of the more exotic weapons in the arsenal unless it is in their normal duties.

So is it the “mark” of an infantryman? It is certainly a way for an infantryman to distinguish himself (or herself!) by earning a badge to wear on the uniform.

I’ll write more tomorrow about the culture that surrounds the EIB. But to address the title of this post, I’ll defer to something an old PL of mine said.

Sitting in the CP, the PL called in all of the new EIB holders. Once they gathered, he turned from his computer with a white foam cup in his hand, spitting tobacco juice into the cup. He quickly addressed the new Expert Infantrymen, voice garbled by the giant dip in his mouth:

“Hey, good job guys, you’ve earned your EIB. *spit* That’s good. You should be proud of yourselves. Now when you go to the PX, everyone will be able to look at you and know you’re infantry. Good job.” *spit*

He then turned back to his computer and did whatever it is he was doing.

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EIB Week: “Expert” vs. “Combat” Infantryman Badge

CIB

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 noHell 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?

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