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JBLM PAO trailblazes in Army to earn ESB

Captain Daniel Mathews, public affairs officer, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), 7th Infantry Division, is the first Army PAO to earn an Expert Soldier Badge. Photo courtesy 2nd SBCT

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Captain Daniel Mathews, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), 7th Infantry Division,  became the Army's first public affairs officer to earn the Expert Soldier Badge (ESB) in October 2020.

Like the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) and Expert Field Medical Badge (EFMB) which enhance the effectiveness of soldiers assigned to combat tasks, the ESB provides the same experience and training to all soldiers tasked with support roles.

A ROTC graduate of Whitworth University, Mathews has served in the Army for 10 years. During that time he has worked in military intelligence (four years) and civil affairs (five years).

While deployed as a civil affairs officer to Micronesia, Palau and Vietnam, Mathews realized the power of public affairs and its impact on public opinion.

"I wanted to be able to ensure that the American public understands the great work that the U.S. Army does on a daily basis."

He said that some soldiers assume he is just a combat photographer or social media person and that's it. Those assumptions motivated him to attain the ESB.

"This was an opportunity to show others that earning the badge isn't about what MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) you hold; rather, it's about the commitment you have and the attention to detail you put in to master the tasks," Mathews continued.

He credits the influence of his family, his church and his participation in sports (particularly wrestling) as contributors to his work ethic and his success. 

To earn an ESB, soldiers must first pass the ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test), qualify as "expert" on the M4 carbine, and then be recommended by their chain of command.

The test challenges soldiers over a five day period, and it consists of another ACFT, day and night land navigation, individual warrior task testing stations, and a culminating 12-mile march in under three hours.

To prepare for the ESB test, Mathews faced a significant challenge.

"Because I am the only public affairs officer for the unit, I still had to continue to do my job," he began. "This unfortunately meant that I had to miss large portions of the train up, but I tried to focus and make use of all the time that I did have."

To maximize his time and efforts, Mathews used an iphone app (EIB Pro) that talked him through what he would do during the test.

"It isn't as good as hands-on training, but it helped me to visualize the tasks as I practiced them at home," he said.

He also praised his fellow soldiers in the Lancer Brigade.

"The brigade prepared us well, and the soldiers who dedicated their time to ensure we were trained to standard should take pride in every badge that was earned that day."

Reactions to Mathews' accomplishment from within the public affairs officers' vary. Many within his career field have been congratulatory. In one instance, Mathews' branch chief told him that he believes all public affairs soldiers should attempt to earn an ESB.

Others disagree, saying that public affairs officers should not be in the media. "I don't ascribe to this belief," concluded Mathews.

"I want people to see the incredible value that a public affairs officer has on both the Army and the mission."

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