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First lieutenant.  Maria Eggers is the first Latina to win the Expert Infantry Badge at Fort Hood

Imagine having to complete a physically demanding test that requires navigating the field until 4 a.m., walking 12 miles in full armor, having to put in gear for a possible chemical attack, and disassembling a weapon. in just five days.

In an exhausting week, 1st Lt. Maria Eggers recently did just that, making her the first woman and the first Latina in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment to win the coveted Expert Infantry Badge, or BEI, qualifying for the highest level – True Blue.

Eggers, 24, received it in April when passing the five-day test that measures a soldier’s physical condition and ability to perform to standards of excellence in a wide variety of critical infantry skills. The test measures mastery of these skills through different assessments and varying degrees of stress. This is a feat for women as less than 100 across the U.S. military received it – all combat roles were opened to women in 2016.

In a phone interview with NBC News, Eggers said she was surprised to learn that she was the first Latina to win the award in the regiment, currently stationed at Ford Hood. As someone who grew up with two parents in the military, she said she always saw herself as a soldier and part of the team.

“I was shocked at how few women had the chance or tried,” she said. “I really think it’s amazing that we have women who are in this profession and are successful. There are a lot of good discussions that happen every time someone is successful. It just shows that we can do it. , and that women are strong and we can handle that work too. “

1st Lieutenant Maria Eggers of the 1st Squadron, the first woman and the first Latina of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment to obtain the Expert Infantry Badge, trains on the medical route.SPC. Johnathan Touhey / US Army

Eggers is a platoon leader in the 1st squadron where she manages and organizes 37 soldiers; she has been at Fort Hood for over nine months.

After a month of preparation, the week of testing began with soldiers covering 4 miles in 40 minutes and then showing off their weapon skills. The next day, participants had to go through day and night land navigation courses wearing their combat gear.

Over the next two days, the Soldiers undertook tasks that included demonstrating how to properly care for injured personnel regarding bleeding, fractures and burns. The last day was the 12 mile walk, also known as the melee, which was to be completed in three hours while wearing full armor. At the last station, she had to dismantle and reassemble her weapon.

Coping with exhaustion was the hardest part of the experience.

“I think most of the time when people don’t get their BEI it’s because they missed a tiny little thing or they’re so tired they can’t think properly,” he said. she declared. “I think that’s probably the hardest part – just having that mental toughness and stamina just to get through the week.”

When she finished the scrum, she said, she felt a sense of relief that she had passed the whole test. It is an accomplishment of which she is very proud.

1st Lt. Maria Eggers performs a weapon function check just before crossing the finish line of the climactic event, a 12-mile march on April 16 at Fort Hood, Texas.Major Marion Jo Nederhoed / US Army

Fort Hood was the center of attention following the disappearance and murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén. A comrade about to be arrested in connection with the case shot himself and committed suicide, authorities said.

An army report released last week revealed that Guillén had previously been sexually harassed by a supervisor but the unit’s leadership had not taken action, although the incident was not linked to her murder.

Last week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., and Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced bipartisan legislation calling for independent military prosecutors to deal with cases of sexual assault and other serious crimes in the army.

“The army is almost a family business”

Eggers, whose mother is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, was born in Georgia to a military family. She pursued her goal of continuing the family tradition by participating in an ROTC program at Florida State University.

The best part of her experience in the Army, she said, is meeting people from different backgrounds while enjoying a variety of benefits, such as academic opportunities and athletic programs.

“I think the military is a lifestyle and almost a family business, if you can put it that way,” Eggers said. “Anything you can do on the civilian side, you can do in the military.”

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