1st South Korean female troops pass US Army's EIB training
SEOUL, South Korea — Two South Korean infantry soldiers recently became the first women from their country to earn the U.S. Army’s prestigious Expert Infantryman Badge.
“This was a must for me,” said Staff Sgt. Kwon Minzy, 21, who wanted to undergo the notoriously rigorous testing to experience how the U.S. trains its soldiers and feel how it is to meet some of the highest standards in “the strongest army in the world.”
Of the 527 troops who began the course last month at Camp Casey, only 94 earned the badge, including 17 of the 21 South Koreans who took part. Candidates have to demonstrate proficiency in 41 events, including weapons, medical care and dealing with contamination from nuclear, chemical, biological and radiological sources.
Typically, only 10 percent of those who try out for the badge succeed.
The weeklong test wasn’t hard because she was a woman, Kwon said — it was just hard. Her biggest challenge was completing a 12-mile ruck march in less than three hours. Encouragement from other soldiers kept her going when she thought she might not make it.
This isn’t the first time that South Koreans have undergone the training, according to 2nd Infantry Division spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Rawlinson, who said the EIB badge helps build trust and confidence among infantrymen as experts in their profession.
“They understand the EIB is an honor, and we encourage them to take part with us,” he said. “They see it as a challenge, and that if they do earn the badge, it comes with a high degree of respect and confidence that they receive from their leaders, just like ours.”
Military service is mandatory only for South Korean men, so just 10,000 of the 630,000 active-duty servicemembers are women, according to South Korean military officials. Of those, about 1,100 are infantry.
Lt. Col. Seo Jundong, a spokesman for South Korea’s 21st Infantry Division, said earning the EIB is important because it improves a soldier’s individual performances, and the new knowledge and skills are eventually passed on to other troops.
Both Kwon and Staff Sgt. Kim Min Kyoung decided to test for the EIB on the recommendation of a South Korean sergeant major.
Kim, 23, said she had completed a similar South Korean army training program and felt earning the EIB would take her military career to a “higher level of professionalism.” She also thought she could learn more from training with the U.S. troops, who she described as the world’s most proficient soldiers.
The testing was the same for both sexes, she said, aside from physical qualification standards. The South Korean women had to meet the same standards as those for females in the U.S. Army, she said.
Kwon, whose grandfather served in the South Korean army, said earning the EIB means she is now a role model for other female soldiers.
“Wearing this uniform and protecting the country, it feels like I am really doing something,” she said.
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.