Superior soldier ‘expert’ in KuwaitA cold and bitter wind blew hard across the desert, whipping a flurry of sand grit into the face of Cpl. Cristopher Moen of Superior as he pushed along on a one-mile forced march, the weight of his pack digging into his back with each step.
By: By Sgt. First Class Troy Smith/For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
A cold and bitter wind blew hard across the desert, whipping a flurry of sand grit into the face of Cpl. Cristopher Moen of Superior as he pushed along on a 12-mile forced march, the weight of his pack digging into his back with each step.
The weather seemed to grow worse as each mile passed, the sand now covering his exposed skin with a thick and uncomfortable layer as well as covering his teeth with a grit that almost escapes words to describe. The annoyance of the grit took away the pain of the heavy pack, the pain of the heavy pack taking Moen’s mind off his aching feet.
“Shin splints hit me right away, and by the two-mile mark my left foot went numb,” Moen said. “At that point it became this internal battle, but by the four-mile mark: The pain eased up and I just kept on moving out.”
Carried by endurance, Moen smiled as he walked along a dirt road in northern Kuwait, the landscape almost void of any kind of feature — just rolling hills of sand as far as the eye could see.
One might ask why a moment such as this could ever draw a smile across the face of a soldier, but to Moen the march was marking the end of a journey of endurance.
Moen was participating in one of the United States Army’s most storied competitions. He volunteered for the agony and forced himself along despite the sweat and pain with an eye on the finish line, and the honor that would come along with it — becoming an expert infantryman.
The competition Moen was participating in is the Expert Infantryman’s Badge competition. Created in 1943, about 10 percent pass the full battery of tests. The two-week event highlights the tools of the modern American infantryman.
For those who meet the challenge and pass the seemingly endless battery of tests, it is a chance to place themselves among the best at their chosen profession, in the most advanced infantry in the history of warfare.
The competition was hosted by the Minnesota Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, of Minnesota’s famed “Red Bulls” of the 34th Infantry Division and took place in northern Kuwait.
The competition began with 564 soldiers — only infantrymen can participate — but only 53 survived the full complement of the testing to remain standing at the end. Superior’s Moen, was one of them.
Being one of less than 10 percent to pass the competition, reaching the pinnacle of your profession, and being considered an “expert” is quite the feat, but for Moen it carried the extra weight of being the only soldier in the Duluth-based, 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry to do so.
As a Cavalry Squadron, the 1-94 CAV only has a handful of infantrymen. But of those, Moen was alone in emerging at the conclusion of the grueling competition as having earned the badge.
“I didn’t think I was going to get it,” said Moen, 26. “In my seven years in the Army, I have never had the chance to compete for it, and frankly, thought it was above my level. This is prestigious; this is the Expert Infantryman’s Badge.
Reaching the finish line wasn’t a completely smooth ride for Moen.
The first day of the three-day portion of the class dedicated to testing the candidates in tactical scenarios in a field environment started out very rocky, and put Moen’s confidence to the test.
“The first eight guys failed the station, and I was the ninth person in line,” Moen said. “It suddenly made me nervous as I stepped up to start the test. But then my training kicked in, I received the mission and executed without hesitation.”
Moen passed that test, and every other agonizing quest the graders threw at him, which brought him to that moment in the desert — the finish line now in sight.
As he soon crossed, his emotions turned from pain and discomfort to disbelief.
“I just couldn’t believe it at first,” Moen said. “All the days of pressure, all the studying, the sweat, the repetitiveness to get every task right — it felt amazing, a kind of surreal moment of complete relief.”
Shortly afterward, as he stood in the award formation, his feet still aching, the frigid north desert winds still spitting sands in his face, he thought about the journey, and of being the only one of an organization of 600 soldiers to reach this feat. He recalled the jokes and good-natured humor from the testing cadre that he was the only Cavalry soldier left and how for him it brought about an “everyone’s counting on me” type of pressure.
He thought about his brother, Staff Sgt. Jason Moen, an active-duty soldier, who has failed twice in EIB competitions.
Enjoying a close relationship with his brother, Moen relished the chance to call him and tell his brother of his accomplishment.
“I can’t wait to call him,” Moen said, laughing. As the ceremony ended, Moen stood proud, his chest adorned with the Infantry Blue colored Expert Infantryman’s Badge. While other soldiers were dismissed, Moen had one more task.
Unknown to him, 80 soldiers from his unit, the Cloquet-based Crazy Troop, 1-94 Cavalry had travelled in a convoy to his location to support him at the ceremony. Now, they all lined up to offer their personal congratulations.
The support of 80 people is great, unless you are standing on sore feet in a persistent sandstorm. Still deployed in a serious part of the world, Moen’s military family was there to share his accomplishment. The pain, sand, sweat and journey was all well worth it to Moen.
“It is truly surreal to accomplish this goal, when I think about the journey from start to end,” he said. As the long day finally drew to a close, Moen stood victorious —one of few who rose to the challenge, overcame the obstacles and excelled. He started the day a soldier; he ended it an expert infantryman.