Six female soldiers recently stood among the few who earned the right to wear the Army’s Expert Infantryman Badge.
To earn the badge, they were required to pass a grueling multi-day challenge that tested their modern-day warfighter skills. That list of skills, 30 tasks deep, included passing an Army physical fitness test with a minimum of 80 percent in each category, multiple weapons lanes, day and night land navigation, as well as proficiency in several combat lifesaver skills, chemical decontamination, and an arduous 12-mile ruck march with a 40-pound pack.
The names and units of these female soldiers were not released, and like so many other noteworthy female pioneers, they quietly took their place in the trophy halls of American feminism.
The Expert Infantryman Badge challenge, attempted by hundreds of infantry soldiers each year, remains attainable by only a small percentage. Of the 1,007 who competed in November 2017, only 289 remained standing at the end.
That women could compete and subsequently earn and wear the badge has only recently become an option. We just passed the two-year mark on the history-changing decision to allow women to serve in infantry positions.
In May 2017, the first gender-integrated infantry basic training graduated 18 female soldiers. Those soldiers now serve in one of a number of infantry units across the Army.
And while there were 6 women who earned their Expert Infantryman badges at Fort Bragg last year, they are not the first women to have charged into this challenge and passed.
In 2011, Captain Michelle Roberts, a company commander in the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment earned the EIB, but because she did not have an infantry MOS, was not authorized to wear the badge.
Additionally, 2 female soldiers from the South Korean army passed the EIB challenge in 2014. And since the South Korean army has allowed women to serve in infantry positions since the 1990s, their achievement is proudly displayed on their uniforms.
There wasn’t much fanfare in the announcement of these new awardees, which gave me pause to wonder why.
Was it because these 6 women feared the inevitable backlash that always seems to ensue when a woman manages to crash through a glass ceiling or wall that protects the mighty accomplishments previously achieved only by men?
Peruse any article touting female soldier accomplishments and the comments are a mix of cheering and ridicule, celebration and suspicion. Accusations of “lowered standards” permeate the rhetoric of those still convinced there is no room in today’s Army for female infantry soldiers.
A quick review of the latest guidance issued by the Army regarding the required standards for the Expert Infantryman Badge offers only one area in which there could be any perceived difference of standards and that’s the APFT.
Participants are required to pass their APFT with a minimum score of 80 in each of the 3 events – 2-mile run, sit ups, and push-ups. Current Army standards do present a difference in the number of sit ups and push-ups, and the time requirements based on gender. However, there is not one standard for males, either, as the APFT also makes allowances for age.
Perhaps it was the choice of these new female EIB awardees to avoid the PR and countless media interviews.
Maybe they are part of the significant number of female service members who are tired of standing out simply because of their gender.
Maybe they believe we have finally reached a point where female soldiers have done enough that their successes no longer need be celebrated as firsts.
Instead, maybe these 6 women simply want to put on their boots, show up and excel at their jobs. Something female soldiers have been doing every day for years.