FORT HOOD, Texas — The cold crisp morning air on the Fort Hood grounds would make anyone hunker down inside a tent next to a heater while drinking some cocoa, but that's not where you'd find around 300 soldiers getting ready to test their skills for a new proficiency badge.
"Oh, I'm fired up and ready to go," said 1LT Thomas Larose of 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment. "More than ready for sure."
Larose and others are trying to achieve the Expert Solider Badge (ESB) which is a proficiency badge that was approved by the Army and announced just over a year ago. The badge is highly coveted because it's a symbol of excellence that recognizes top soldiers that have met the highest standard of performance.
"It proves that you're an expert, well-rounded as a soldier in all of these events," Larose said. "They way I see it, is you can prove that you can do all things the Army expects across the board."
Lieutenant Larose wants to be an expert soldier just like a long line of those who came before him did in different branches of the military, which also includes his brother.
"Going back to my great-grandfather who fought in World War II, 101st, both Grandfather's, Navy and Marine Corps respectively," he said. "My uncle was a Marine as well and my brother was an officer in the Army, so, it's a long tradition and I just wanted to upkeep that service for the country."
Earning the ESB is not easy and tests a soldier's proficiency in physical fitness, marksmanship, land navigation and other critical skills. It also demonstrates a mastery of art of being a soldier.
This is the final week of three grueling weeks that soldiers have been training up to test for the badge. The training and testing is challenging, mission-focused and is conducted under realistic conditions.
Not anyone is able to take the test as pre-requisites must be met for each soldier ahead of time. Any solider wanting to test must first pass the Army Combat Fitness Test, qualify as "expert" on the M4/M16 rifle and also be recommended by their chain of command.
"It proves to, not only my peers but to my soldiers and subordinates below me that I've put in the time and the effort to achieve this," Larose said. "I want this to lead by example and set a path forward for others to hopefully achieve the same."
Under the winter chill, Larose is confident he has what it takes to achieve the badge he was recommended for by his superior officers. While it won't be easy and there are events he's better at than others, he does see it as a chance to get better and learn.
"There's a great quote by John Cavanaugh that I like and it's called 'We Win or We Learn' and what that means is, say if you get a no-go out here and you don't pass, it's only a no-go if you take it that way," Larose said. "Either you're going to pass and you're going to get this badge or you're gong to learn from it and you'll come back the next time better."