Soldiers' hearts pounded as they fought for victory - not on the battlefield, but for a badge to wear on their chests.
Last week, about 700 Fort Carson soldiers tested to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge, a coveted symbol of their proficiency at combat tasks. The five-day exercise involved a physical fitness test, land navigation and more than 30 tasks divided into three categories: weapons, medical aid and patrol.
"It's pretty difficult to earn the badge because you have to memorize each test and execute it perfectly," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Herne, who long ago earned his badge. "If you mess one thing up, you receive a no-go."
Candidates are graded as "go" or "no go" and must successfully complete every task to obtain the honor. Many soldiers fail at their first attempt, Herne said, but keep coming back for the grueling challenge.
Candidates also must complete a 12-mile march within three hours while wearing their combat pack, holding their weapon and carrying 35 pounds of additional impedimenta.
"You have to come out here and only focus on one task at a time," Herne said. "The tasks are set up to simulate a battlefield environment."
Immediately after the march, candidates face "Objective Bull," a simulated casualty event where they must treat a wounded soldier and haul them to a medical evacuation site 50 meters away.
"If you get past the lanes (tests), the march and Bull takes all heart," said Staff Sgt. Seth Callaway, who earned the badge in 2014.
Judges such as Callaway, who wears the badge, are the toughest critics for the candidates trying to earn their own.
"It makes you proud to train soldiers and give them the chance to be tested," Callaway said.
The week began with 700 candidates, said Maj. Johnathon Knapton but the number dwindled each day.
"We expect 15-20 percent of the 700 soldiers to earn the badge," Knapton said.
Candidates receive two weeks of intense training before the week of testing.
"It's a struggle at every station," said first-time candidate Sgt. Kevin Persinger. "It could be your last."
Persinger stood in front of the hand grenade stations where candidates were given five fake grenades and 45 seconds to throw them within 15 feet of a target. With the (hopefully) remaining grenades, candidates moved on to throw them into a trench marked with another target with an additional 45 seconds.
"The most challenging part was the attention to detail," Callaway said as he recalled his experience. "You either have it or you don't."
Most of the skills in the test are taught at basic training. But they're not things soldiers use every day.
"It's a good event for young and seasoned soldiers alike because it brings them back to basics," Herne said.
While battling for the badge, candidates like Persinger planned to wear it with honor.
"Why wouldn't I wear something I earned?" Persinger said.