Capt. Allison Sanchez, a dietitian with Martin Army Community Hospital in Fort Benning, Georgia, fastens a mannequin into a Skedco litter for casualty evacuation training during the Expert Field Medical Badge competition, Sept. 7, 2019. | U.S. Army photo by: Spc. Christina Westover
Usually during competitions, participants strive to be first place, trying to outdo, outwit, and defeat the other candidates in order to win.
But to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge, the competition is yourself.
What makes this badge hard to get is that medics have to overcome 43 medical evaluations within the time allotted without making a single mistake, while physically and mentally exhausted.
“This is my first time competing in the EFMB course, and hopefully I get it,” said Capt. Stephen Scott, a health services human resources officer with the 424th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, Pennsylvania Army National Guard. “They say what you do in your twenties lasts a lifetime. I’m 29 and I think that this will have a positive impact on my career.”
Medics from two active duty divisions, the Minnesota and Arizona National Guard and the Pennsylvania Reserve component, traveled to Fort Bliss to participate in the assessment alongside the 1st Armored Division’s medics.
This year’s event is being hosted by the 1st Armored Brigade Combat team. Soldiers were tested on lifesaving skills while under physical and mental stress at Fort Bliss, Texas, from Sept. 5 to 11, 2019.
Over half of the Soldiers that entered the competition have competed in the past and failed, but come back throughout their military career in the hopes of finally obtaining it.
“You have to carry your crown before you can wear it,” said Scott. “So needless to say, if I do not complete it here at this time, I will most definitely come again and knock it out of the park. You know what they say, ‘It’s better to take a bumpy road to success than a smooth road to failure.’”
The EFMB qualification measures Soldiers’ physical fitness, mental toughness and ability to perform to standards of excellence in a broad spectrum of critical medical and military skills.
While the events covered include basic Soldier tasks, such as land navigation and the Army physical fitness test, it also includes combat testing lanes that cover litter carries, extraction from a military vehicle and using a radio to call for medical evacuation.
The badge was established in June 1965 as a Department of the Army special skill award for the recognition of exceptional competence and outstanding performance by field medical personnel and is considered one of the most prestigious awards Soldiers can earn.
“For a test that started as a validation of skills for the medical units of 5th Corps, the EFMB has become the standard by which we measure excellence,” said Command Sgt. Maj. William Vernon, Troop Command, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Fort Bliss. “For those of you that have earned your badge today, you have also earned the responsibility.”
“Today is a day of celebration, but tomorrow the real work starts,” said Vernon. “Others have made it possible for you to be here, so tomorrow, in addition to maintaining your level of excellence for as long as you wear the badge you are responsible for ensuring that we field the greatest, ready medical force possible.”
“We owe a debt to those that came before us – a debt that can only be paid by preparing those that come after us,” said Vernon. “That is only possible if you become the standard, and this test becomes a validation of readiness, not just a level of excellence.”
With only three percent of the Army’s medical community sporting the badge, the numbers speak for themselves.
By the end of the week-long event, only five Soldiers out of 126 – four percent – met all of the rigorous requirements to earn the badge, showcasing their exceptional skills as an expert field medic.
“My next goal is seeing the soldiers underneath succeed,” said Sgt. Richard Kennedy, combat medic with 2nd Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment and one of the five EFMB recipients. “I want them to get the badge as well, so I will do everything in power to make that happen.”
“I’d say (to Army medics), don’t focus on just one aspect of our job,” said Kennedy. “You should try to get as much out of the Army as you can. People are so full of knowledge, it’s up to us to absorb that and teach as well.”
Although the competition is hard, Soldiers need determination and dedication to not only earn the badge, but accept the fact that they may have someone’s life in their hands.
“We ask for blessings, as these hard working Soldiers are being awarded the EFMB today,” said Maj. Gino Hernandez, 1st Armored Brigade chaplain, during the invocation at the award ceremony, Sept. 11, 2019. “We realize that these badges are not mere decor upon a uniform, but emblems of responsibility to run towards disaster so that others may be saved.”