by Andrew J. Papathanasiou
No one who has earned one of the Army’s coveted expert badges (EIB, ESB, & EFMB) wants to ever have to relive that week of mental stress again.
But should they have to?
Our immediate response, mine included, would be of course they should not.
Just like every other school or badge opportunity in the Army, once you meet the required standards you have earned the right to wear that badge for the rest of your career. This methodology, however, is not without its own faults.
If you are like me, when you see a Soldier wearing an expert badge it immediately elicits thoughts of how that individual possesses a proficiency in a multitude of basic infantry, medical, or other Soldier skills. But let us be honest about what it really means right now – for a one-week period they were really good at memorization. If you pitted an expert badge holder vs. a non-badge holder in, say, weapons proficiency even just a few months after that individual had earned their badge, I doubt you would see much of a difference in competence.
Those of us who have earned an expert badge are intimately familiar with the “brain dump” process. After you pass a lane on testing day it is pretty much standard practice that one would brain dump everything they just learned to free up their mind and focus on passing the next lane. And there is nothing wrong with that, it is a byproduct of the stressful conditions testing week forces you to be under. But the inevitable result of this is the permanent loss of all the information that was just learned and perfected days ago. While brain dumping can be beneficial for taking in new information, it is detrimental to the Army and contrary to the spirit of the badge.
So, when testing season comes around again, who is mentoring these new Soldiers to earn their badge? The answer is not the current badge holders. Sure, they will run the train-up and evaluate the Soldiers as they practice, but they are not effectively teaching them because they lost much of the knowledge that they had learned. In order to be effective teachers, they would have to memorize every sequence for every lane all over again, which in reality will never happen. Even if they are an actual grader during test week, they only need to recertify in that one lane. All they will do to assist in train-up is follow along in the book to help catch mistakes in the candidate’s sequence, which the candidates can just do for each other.
Similar issues are seen when units simply go to the range. For example, the number of Soldiers I have seen with an EIB who cannot remember how to clear an MK-19 or an M-2 is pretty incredible. I do not expect people to be perfect or always have the right answer, but it is a noticeable and recurring problem. Soldiers that distinguish themselves as experts in their field and wear it on their uniform should be held to that higher standard. New Soldiers look up to these high achievers to be that expert, and in order to maintain that level of respect these experts should have to continue to earn it.
I am not arguing for a change in the testing process for expert badges, or that Soldiers need to retain the knowledge of how to perform every single step for every single requirement that earning an expert badge demands. But a change should be made, if not for the betterment of the individual Soldier, then for the betterment of the Army as a whole. It is the same concept as awarding Marksmanship Qualification Badges, which are not permanent awards. The award you have reflects your current level of marksmanship every time you go to the range to qualify. Just because you earned expert that one time ten years ago does not reflect your current lethality and make you an expert at this point in time. The same thought process should apply to expert badges.
A solution to this problem, while unpopular, would be a recurring recertification requirement for all expert badge holders. While an argument could be made about the specific duration between recertifications, an annual requirement would be appropriate enough to ensure both too much time is not wasted conducting re-testing and that the knowledge gained is not forgotten across the force. The recertification process does not need to be as intensive as actual testing week had been; there are numerous possibilities for how it could be accomplished the right way. This particular dispute can be left to the newly established Expert Badge (or E3B) conference to decide. The first meeting of this new semiannual conference just occurred from the 23rd-24th of February 2022 and would be the perfect forum to solve this issue.
Earning your expert badge is a difficult and time-consuming process. There is a reason that pass rates are so low, and those of us who earn the badge have every right to wear and be proud of it. The Army deserves more from us though. The knowledge we have gained through the process should be kept circulating within the force and utilized to better our Soldiers at every opportunity.
Captain Andrew Papathanasiou is a Military Intelligence Officer currently attending the Military Intelligence Captains Career Course located at Fort Huachuca, AZ. He previously served as an Infantry Officer with the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, KS. He commissioned out of Northeastern University and holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering.