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Photo: Major Marion Jo Nederhoed, 3rd Cav. Regt. Public Affairs/U.S. Army
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Platoon Leader 1st Lt. Maria Eggers is the First Latina to Earn Expert Infantry Badge at Fort Hood

Fort Hood has been mired in controversy following the disappearance and murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillén. For what feels like the first time since her story broke in April of last year, there’s some good news coming out of the Army base. 1st Lt. Maria Eggers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment became the first Latina and the first woman to earn the coveted Expert Infantry Badge (EIB) on April 16, 2021, qualifying at True Blue level, the highest there is. Eggers, 24, who is currently stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, received the honor after completing a five-day test during which she completed tasks including a 12-mile ruck march, assembling and disassembling weapons, and gearing up for a chemical attack. Eggers is a platoon leader responsible for 37 other soldiers.

Fewer than 100 women in the entire U.S. Army have received the EIB since all combat roles were opened to women in 2016, allowing them to compete for such badges for the first time ever. Eggers’s, whose parents were both in the Army as well, did not even know that she was the first Latina to earn the award in her regiment at the time she completed the assessment, NBC News reported.

“I was shocked by how few females have had the opportunity or who have tried,” she told NBC News. “I definitely think it is amazing that we have females that are in this profession and that we’re succeeding. There is a lot of good talk that happens whenever somebody is successful. It just shows that we can do it, and that females are strong and we can handle this job too,” said Maria, whose mother is Mexican and Puerto Rican.

Maria prepared for the EIB test for a month before performing the rigorous testing which included completing a four-mile run in 40 minutes, day and night land navigation challenges, weapons skills testing, and medical skills testing. “I think a lot of the time when people don’t get their EIBs, it’s because they, one, missed a very small thing or they’re just so tired that they can’t think properly,” Eggers told NBC News. “I think that’s probably the hardest part—just having that mental fortitude and toughness just to make it through the week,” she said.

Fort Hood has become the subject of much scrutiny on both local and national levels in regards to the safety of female soldiers amid rampant rumors of ongoing sexual harassment. In the aftermath of Guillén’s death, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Joni Ernst, (R-Iowa), introduced the  Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act calling for independent prosecutors to take on sexual assault cases and other major crimes in the military.

Eggers was the only female from her regiment to train for the EIB this year. “I honestly tried not to think about it,” she told the Fort Hood Sentinel. “I just want to be the best possible soldier and leader that I can be.”