Report/Health & Fitness2016.06.09 13:58

CAMP CASEY, South Korea (Oct. 31, 2014) -- On a historic day on the Korean Peninsula, two Republic of Korea army soldiers were the first females to earn and wear the Expert Infantryman Badge, which was awarded to them at a graduation ceremony here, Oct. 23.

Staff Sgt. Kwon, Minzy and Staff Sgt. Kim, Min Kyoung, both infantry soldiers from the Republic of Korea's 21st Infantry Division, endured the physically demanding training and testing to earn the badge. In the Republic of Korea army, women fill combat roles. 

Beginning in fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Army is scheduled to open previously-closed positions -- to include the Infantry -- to women, which should result in more than 90,000 new positions. Currently, there are no women serving in the U.S. infantry. The Expert Infantryman Badge, which is commonly known as the EIB, is limited to Soldiers in the Infantry and Special Forces.

"I am one of the first female [Republic of Korea] army soldiers [to earn the badge], and I take pride in that. I am also glad that I was able to write a new page in the history of the [Republic of Korea] army, and the U.S. Army," said Kim, from Busan, South Korea, who has been in the Republic of Korean army for three years. "It was a great opportunity and experience. In a way, I have become a representative of female [Republic of Korea] army soldiers. Nothing is impossible."

The Expert Infantryman Badge training and testing process is a grueling, two-week course which tests combat arms Soldiers in more than 40 infantry tasks. During the training, Soldiers must demonstrate they are proficient in all five phases of the qualification process. The five phases include the Army Physical Fitness Test, a day and night navigation course, master skills testing, individual tactical testing and a 12-mile road march to be completed in less than three hours. When the training began, 524 Soldiers attempted to earn the EIB, but once graduation day came around, only 94 remained. 

"It's an honor to be here and be one of the first," said Kwon, a native of Chuncheon, South Korea, who has only been in the army for one year. "It was difficult, but fun too. It was one of the most meaningful events of my army career. Handling heavy firearms like the AT4 [anti-tank weapon] was probably the most difficult part of the course because it requires a lot of physical strength."

Candidates for the EIB must complete heavy weapons training and testing throughout the course. Some of the weapons candidates must demonstrate proficiency on are the M16 rifle, .50 caliber machine gun, the AT4, hand grenades and the M249 squad automatic weapon. In addition to the weapons lanes, candidates must also exhibit excellence in scenario-driven battlefield situations, which include tasks as calling for fire, performing first aid, calling in a medical evacuation and moving under direct fire. 

The EIB was initiated and first awarded 70 years ago by then-Army Chief of Staff George C. Mitchell, and represents the U.S. Infantry's tough, hard-hitting role in combat and is a symbol of proficiency in the Infantry. The EIB was instituted to build and maintain esprit de corps within U.S. Infantry units. The intent of the badge is to be a representation of tradition for infantrymen that play a vital role in the defense of the nation's past, present and future.

Originally, the badge was only offered to male Soldiers who possessed the Infantry specialty in the U.S. Army. In 1978, the 2nd Infantry Division requested permission to allow Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army Soldiers, known as KATUSAs, the opportunity to earn the EIB. The rationale was that KATUSA personnel serve in infantry positions right beside their American counterparts. After much debate, 248 KATUSAs were awarded the EIB, in August 1978.

The first female soldiers to be integrated into the South Korean army began Sept. 1, 1950, during the Korean War. The female soldiers were assigned to separate units and segregated from males. In 1991, the Republic of Korea army abolished the original policy and provided more options to female soldiers, to include serving in the infantry. 

By July 2014, a new policy allowed female soldiers to choose whichever job they wanted.

Today, the U.S. Army is planning and developing gender-neutral standards for combat specialties such as the infantry. Qualification badges, such as the EIB, are strictly reserved for Soldiers in the Infantry and Special Forces field much like the Expert Field Medical Badge is open only to Soldiers in the medical field. Although earning and wearing certain badges is specific to the job the Soldiers hold, Soldiers from other specialties are sometimes granted the opportunity to train and test for the qualification badges, but are not allowed to wear the badge on their uniform. 

An example of a Soldier passing the standards, but not being able to wear the badge, is Capt. Michelle Roberts, who met the standards to earn the EIB, but is not allowed to wear the EIB on her uniform because she is a non-combat arms Soldier. In the Republic of Korea army, women fill infantry positions, and are therefore eligible to earn and wear the badge.

"To earn the EIB, you have to demonstrate excellence, and that's what you have done," said Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew J. Spano, 2nd Infantry Division senior enlisted adviser, and the guest speaker at the EIB graduation. "Staff Sgt. Kwon has not only earned her badge, but earned the 'true blue' (100 percent proficiency on all tasks). It doesn't matter if you are a male or female, the standard is the standard. This training has provided both of these warriors the skills to be more lethal on the battlefield. You will never forget this moment, and this is what I call an historic event."

Posted by IMACI somakorea