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NEWS | April 25, 2022

U.S. Army Japan Soldiers Overcome Grueling Tasks to Earn Expert Soldier Badge

By Sean Kimmons U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs

SAGAMI GENERAL DEPOT, Japan -- Spc. Ryan Lastrapes’ day job is playing the French horn for the U.S. Army Japan Band, but he is now also considered one of the most skilled Soldiers in the Army.

Lastrapes and 22 other Soldiers earned the coveted Expert Soldier Badge after a grueling weeklong competition, which initially had about 120 participants in USARJ’s first-ever testing event for the newest skill badge in the Army.

The musician was also one of five Soldiers to be designated as “perfect edge” for receiving a first-time go on all 30 warrior skills tasks.

While Lastrapes understands his job is to mainly entertain, other band members with combat experience have told him he may need to carry out different mission sets when deployed.

“It’s good to have the skills, because you just don’t know what you’ll be tasked to do,” he said. “Being able to support that mission and work with the people around you to get [everyone] home safely – it matters.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Dodson Jr., senior enlisted leader for USARJ, said the competition and the week of training beforehand have directly impacted the command’s mission.

Even those who were not able to earn the badge, he said, are still well-trained and will help boost readiness across the organization.

“They will return to their units better trained and more proficient in the tasks that not only makes the individual Soldier better,” he said, “but it increases the lethality of all units assigned to U.S. Army Japan.”

Capt. Quinetta Forby, commander of E Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, decided to join others in her unit for the competition.

“I really wanted to be out here with my Soldiers to be able to push them,” she said. “And it’s also good for me, as a commander, to be able to see what they need to do.”

As an officer, Forby said she could have easily sat behind her computer while her Soldiers endured physically and mentally draining tasks. Instead, she traveled from Okinawa with them and became the lone woman to receive the ESB and also the “perfect edge” moniker.

“If I get out there and I know exactly what it takes,” she said, “it just gives me a better outlook as a leader.”

Combat readiness

The ESB, which a Soldier can earn by completing 30 skill level 1 warrior tasks, was approved in 2019 to provide all Soldiers not in infantry and medical career fields an opportunity to prove their combat readiness.

The skill badge is an equivalent to the Expert Infantryman Badge and Expert Field Medical Badge. It looks similar to the Combat Action Badge, minus the wreath. The badge displays the same M9 bayonet knife and M67 fragmentation grenade inlaid against a solid, gray rectangular bar.

Events for this competition took place at Camp Zama, Sagami General Depot and Combined Arms Training Center Fuji.

The tasks fell under three lanes: weapons, patrol and medical. Some of them included proficiency on several weapons systems, evacuating and treating wounded personnel, and moving under direct fire.

Competitors, who ranged in rank from private to major, also had to complete a land navigation course, the Army Combat Fitness Test, and a 12-mile foot march as the final evenSgt. 1st Class Keith Martinson, assigned to U.S. Army Medical Department Activity–Japan, ran the medical lane, which had several tasks tied to tactical combat casualty care.

After lessons learned from previous conflicts showed that units relied too much on combat medics, Martinson said the Army began to stress the need for all Soldiers to acquire more of these skills.

“When a Soldier is injured on the battlefield, they can immediately either apply self-aid or they can have another Soldier help them out,” Martinson said. “So with Soldiers having those medical skills, it saves lives and it’s been proven.”

Master Sgt. Justin Sweat, assigned to 38th ADA, was in charge of the weapons lane that tested on a variety of individual weapons systems.

The most challenging event in his lane was the grenade throw, he said. In it, participants had two tries to toss a training grenade 35 meters and have it land within five meters of the target.

“It’s important for them to know this kind of stuff,” he said of his lane, “because weapons proficiency is a foundational skill of any Soldier, regardless of their job, position or unit of assignment.”

During the award ceremony, Maj. Gen. JB Vowell, commander of USARJ, said the competition reaffirmed the command’s commitment to continually improve its lethality to help maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

“Our potential adversaries in the region don’t have this,” Vowell said. “And with our [noncommissioned officers], the secret sauce is our professionalism, our expertise and our leadership. This exemplifies all three.”

The general also recognized the difficulty of completing the contest and reminded the fraction of those who made it to share their expertise.

“You are witnessing and observing the most highly skilled, fit and disciplined Soldiers in the Army right now,” he said. “Keep that up and take that back to your formations and make them better as a whole team.”

Those who earned the ESB are as follows:

311th Military Intelligence Battalion:

Spc. Juan Uribe
78th Signal Battalion:

Spc. Thomas Wade
Staff Sgt. Daniel Gomez *
Capt. Seungtek Oh
2nd Lt. David Snow
38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade:

Pfc. Felix Rosario Acosta
1st Sgt. Stephen Graves
Capt. Daniel Quandt *
Capt. Quinetta Forby *
1st Lt. Liam Wallis
1st Lt. Daniel Andrews
Sgt. Scotty Porter
Staff Sgt. Holden Lebron
U.S. Army Japan Band:

Spc. Jacob Byrd
Staff Sgt. Robert Harrison
Spc. Ryan Lastrapes *
Staff Sgt. Collin Murray
Staff Sgt. Jamal Walker
9th Mission Support Command:

Sgt. Thomas Hunt *
1/1 Special Forces Group:

Sgt. David Cho
E Co., 53rd Signal Battalion (Satellite Control):

1st Lt. Eric Klein
10th Support Group:

Capt. John Altman
Japan Engineer District:

1st Lt. Andrew Gilbert
* Denotes those who also earned the “perfect edge” designation for receiving a first-time go on all 30 warrior skills tasks.

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