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‘Blood, sweat and tears’: Fort Wainwright Soldiers compete to earn the title of expert

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 6:15 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Over the last three weeks, 827 soldiers from Fort Wainwright and Fort Richardson have been training and testing to get their expert badges. Soldiers can earn one of three badges, the expert infantry, expert soldier or expert field medical badge, depending on what their job in the Army is. As they train and test, their bodies and minds are pushed to the limit with 30 different tasks, testing their skills as a soldier.

The soldiers are able to train on the different tasks for two weeks before spending a week in testing.

Second Lieutenant Justin Perry practices shooting a machine gun as he trains for the upcoming...
Second Lieutenant Justin Perry practices shooting a machine gun as he trains for the upcoming test.(John Dougherty/KTVF)

“We go over the lanes a lot, and we practice. You have to get everything perfect and just doing things over and over again definitely ensures and helps you get it,” said Private 2nd Class Hunter Cameron an infantryman with 11B. He was about to practice the ‘react to contact’ lane. The lane has soldiers complete a high crawl, low crawl and run to cover task while simulating enemy fire.

PV2 Hunter Cameron, an infantryman with 11B at Fort Wainwright practices his low crawl as he...
PV2 Hunter Cameron, an infantryman with 11B at Fort Wainwright practices his low crawl as he trains for his expert infantry badge.(John Dougherty/KTVF)

The different badges have different tasks that soldiers must complete. Emily Raab is a First Lieutenant competing for her Expert Field Medical Badge. One of the tasks she is working on is maneuvering through and around obstacles while reacting to direct fire.

“It is important to know how to be able to move through and around obstacles and here they emphasize just being aware of your surroundings and checking where you are going and where you are coming from,” Raab said.

First Lieutenant Emily Raab crawls under barbed wire during one of the Expert Field Medical...
First Lieutenant Emily Raab crawls under barbed wire during one of the Expert Field Medical tasks she was training for.(John Dougherty/KTVF)

After the two weeks of training all their skills will be tested and if they are able to complete the events, they will get their expert badge. However, the test can be hard.

“Some people have been humbled over the last couple days because they come in really cocky and they believe that, ‘hey I know this I don’t need to practice,’” said Captain Erickson Krogh, Company Commander for Alpha Company 1-5 Infantry Regimen. If soldiers are unable to perfectly complete more than three tasks they fail the entire test.

Soldiers are required to test on the weapons they use for their job and be proficient at operating them. From assembling and disassembling their main weapons, operating a .50 caliber machine gun, or throwing hand grenades, they were expected to be able to use the weapons in a set amount of time without error.

A soldier practices throwing a hand grenade before his test. They are required to be able to...
A soldier practices throwing a hand grenade before his test. They are required to be able to land the grenade in a 5-meter radius to pass the event.(John Dougherty/KTVF)

The test wasn’t easy. Of the 827 soldiers that started the test, only 275 were able to finish.

“It was a lot harder than I thought it would be and I think I realized early on that it would be hard and that’s part of the reason why I’m here is I didn’t underestimate it,” said First Lieutenant Dylan Cory. He had just completed the last event of the training, a 12-mile ruck march that soldiers had to complete in less than 3 hours. After they finish they are required to disassemble and reassemble their weapon to pass the test.

Finishing was rewarding though.

“Feels amazing. A lot of effort, blood sweat and tears, you know, goes into the end of it but it all pays off,” said Staff Sergeant Justin Howard.

The testing also helps them become better soldiers.

“Honestly been amazing. And one day it might help me save someone else or save my own life,” said Specialist William Head, an Infantryman from Fort Richardson. It also helps their career by making them more likely to receive a promotion.

The training only comes once every few years so soldiers who want to earn the badges need to work extra hard. Krogh said that he has only had one other chance to get the badge back in 2016.

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