087 - Copy.jpgA Soldier provides first aid to a casualty under fire during the Expert Soldier Badge testing last week. The testing, designed to recognize Soldiers who excel in individual Soldier combat skills, was a first for the installation. (Photo Credit: Alexandra Shea)

By Alexandra Shea                                                                                                                                                                                                    Fort Jackson Leader

Twenty-six Fort Jackson Soldiers earned the right to wear the Expert Soldier Badge after testing last week. The testing was a first for the installation.

Of the initial 126 that began the testing, 26 stood tall during the badge award ceremony presided by Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Brig. Gen. Milford "Beags" Beagle Jr., and Post Command Sgt. Maj. Jerimiah Gan.

The ESB is designed to recognize Soldiers who excel in individual Soldier combat skills. These skills are vital to improve their unit and Army readiness. During the week-long competition, Soldiers were tested in lanes such as troop movement, medical and weapon platforms.

Competitors were also required to score 80 or more in each event of the Army Physical Fitness Test, qualify at the range and complete a 12-mile ruck march and land navigation.

"Trends have shown that AT-4, hand grenades and the MK-19 are what has been taking them out," said Master Sgt. William Smith, test site Non-commissioned Officer in Charge from 193rd Infantry Brigade, about the lane that eliminated the most competitors. "I think the Soldiers that are here now are true experts. They are showing that they want it."

On the final day of lane testing, only 30 Soldiers out of the initial 126 had successfully made it that far. With the final ruckmarch event in sight, two would make small mistakes that would result in their dismissal from the competition.

"I got, got," said 2nd Lt. James Middleton, a platoon leader with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. "I received a double 'No-Go' on the needle decompression. I missed an easy step but with the time crunch and pressure, I missed it."

Although disappointed with making it so far into the competition and not passing, Middleton said he considered the event fun and he received good training. When asked if he would make another attempt to earn the badge, he replied, "absolutely."

While each competitor approached the badge testing with their own game plan to succeed, the common plan by most included teamwork and focusing on one task at a time. For one candidate, focusing on one task at a time helped her earn the title of "Straight Edge."

"In case you all don't understand what that means, she got a first time 'Go' in every single event," Gan said.

Standing at only 4 feet, 11 inches, Staff Sgt. Marygrace Espinoza, a drill sergeant at 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, was the smallest in stature during the testing.

"It motivates me when people think I can't do something," Espinoza said. "It feels amazing."

Espinoza recently competed in the Drill Sergeant of the Year competition in January. While she didn't win the competition, she said the competition was very close and the loss motivated her to test for the ESB. Her game plan during the testing was to take one task at a time to stay focused and not get overwhelmed.

"A lot of the stuff we did during the Drill Sergeant of the Year competition prepared me for this," Espinoza said. "My command team really supported me again giving me the time to study and prepare. All the hard work payed off."

Testing for the badge ended with an award ceremony at Hilton Field where candidates, command teams, coworkers, friends and Family members gathered. Beagle and Gan broke traditions of award ceremonies by shaking each candidates hand and congratulating them before asking those in attendance to move forward and pin the badge to their Soldier.

After the ceremony concluded, candidates were released from the ceremony to eat a hot meal and get some well-earned sleep.