Earning the badge: 147 test, but only 24 take home EFMB
Sgt. Erik Thurman,
15th Sustainment Bde. Public Affairs:
As an improvised explosive device blasted across the desert, a concussive wave sent two Soldiers hurdling toward the ground while clouds of dust lifted into the air. The Soldiers survived, but were severely wounded in the blast. The incident was followed by a brief moment of stillness until seconds later when the Soldiers began pleading for help.
Pfc. Dillon Stewart, a combat medic with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, responded and went to the aid of Spc. Michael A. Putman, a truck driver with E Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st AD. Stewart knelt at Putman’s side and immediately began evaluating Putman’s injuries as he began pulling medical supplies from his bag.
Standing above both Soldiers was Staff Sgt. Michael Lopes, a combat medic with 1st Bn., 6th Inf. Regt. From behind a pair of black sunglasses, Lopes watched Stewart closely as he began marking on his clipboard.
“Hurry up, candidate – you have another Soldier over there!” Lopes shouted, compelling Stewart to rush as a mask of concentration drew across his face.
Stewart was not overseas on some distant battlefield, nor was he responding to a terrorist attack here at home. Instead, Stewart was safe at his assigned duty station competing in the Expert Field Medical Badge Competition held Jan. 23 through Feb. 3 at a training site near East Fort Bliss.
The EFMB test is a two-week exercise that simulates battlefield conditions and tests Soldiers in the medical field on crucial tasks that all combat medics are expected know.
Sgt. 1st Class David Meditz, a combat medic with an additional Army certification as an LVN, has served as a combat medic for 21 years. He traveled to Fort Bliss from Fort Riley, Kan., to observe the Fort Bliss’ EFMB test so he can take back lessons from the test for Fort Riley’s own EFMB event.
Meditz said the EFMB test these days is scenario-driven. In the past, the tasks were tested individually as independent duties. Now, the competition uses three “combat lanes,” referred to as CTL1, CTL2 and CTL3 – each incorporating a series of tasks that are intertwined with one continuous scenario.
The lanes require Soldiers to execute proper medical aid to casualties while still functioning as a basic Soldier and reacting to an environment that is realistic to a casualty’s needs, Meditz said.
The lanes require candidates to demonstrate proficiency with common Soldier tasks such as radio communications, tactical survivability, a written exam, land navigation, casualty evacuation, reacting to enemy contact, functioning in a contaminated environment or responding to the discovery of unexploded ordnance. The entire event was capped off with a strictly timed 12-mile road march while each Soldier wore a combat-loaded ruck and carried a weapon.
But just like on the battlefield, there are no second chances. Soldiers must perform tasks without coaching, without assistance and without field manuals in their back pockets and must do so on their very first attempt if they expect to obtain the coveted badge.
“Any medical Soldier can earn a Combat Medic Badge by doing their job in a combat environment, where they were under fire and doing their job by taking care of Soldiers and treating a casualty,” Meditz said.
“But a Combat Medic Badge does not necessarily say whether they are an expert in their field,” Meditz continued. “It says they did their job. The Expert Field Medical Badge says that they are an expert at what they do. It is a step above the standard medic. It is a step above saying, ‘I can complete my common tasks.’ It says to everyone that ‘I hold myself to a higher standard and I can complete that higher standard under extreme stress.’”
Staff Sgt. Michael David Langmo, a combat medic assigned to B Company, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, served as a grader for “Combat Lane 1” during the event and knows how difficult the EFMB is to obtain. He earned his badge in 1996 while he was in the National Guard.
“I have been to multiple schools, I have got multiple badges and in my opinion, the EFMB is the hardest one to get from what I have seen personally,” Langmo said.
Langmo said that the competition began with a total of 147 candidates, of which only 24 actually received the badge. Langmo said the most difficult part of the event is the amount of information a Soldier is expected to retain after the first week. During the first week, Soldiers are presented with all of the scenarios and standards, and many Soldiers who compete are not always coming from duty positions where they have given much repetition to the required tasks.
“I feel that EFMB is a mark of pride in a medic’s chosen career path,” said Langmo. “It shows their peers that they are willing to compete to show that pride.”
Spc. Thomas Frennier, a pharmacy specialist with B Company, 31st Combat Support Hospital, also acknowledged the difficulty of the event.
“It was very tough,” said Frennier. “I had to pay attention and do a lot of training. The hardest part was the long hours and performing on the lanes after studying during all of my free time.”
Frennier also said he never doubted he would complete the event and that he hopes to have the chance to return as a member of the grading staff to inspire other Soldiers to earn the badge.
After the road march, badge recipients stood in formation before family members and supporters who turned out to show their encouragement.
Lt. Col. Myranda Vereen, troop commander, G-1, with WBAMC, said the medical center sent 19 Soldiers to try out for the EFMB. Though the test historically sees only around 10 percent of all candidates earning the badge, WBAMC saw nearly half of their Soldiers take home the EFMB with a total of seven badge recipients.
“Congratulations,” said to badge recipients. “We are so proud of your hard work, dedication and diligence. Continue to lead the pack, because you set the standard.”
Sgt. Maj. Samuel J. Suslick closed the event by saying, “I guarantee the 24 of you will remember the last two weeks and remember what you went through every time you look down and see the badge on your chest.”
Capt. Robert Plotts
Capt. Megon Carter
Capt. Michael Farrell
Capt. David Marshall
Capt. Janice Rush
Capt. Robert Weber
Staff Sgt. Frantcy Diegue
Staff Sgt. Benjamin Heimstead
Staff Sgt. Matthew Kuzel
Sgt Kimberley Aut
Cpl. Gaines Sumrall
Spc. Alex Bacallao
Spc. Travis Beagle
Spc. Timothy Brown
Spc. Colby Chavis
Spc. Thomas Frennier
Spc. Matthew Harris
Spc. Timothy Hartmann
Spc. Joel Jones
Pfc. Thomas Gorman
Pfc. Rebecca Hine
Pfc. Tre Sherril
Pfc. Skyler Warner
Spc. Alex W. Munoz
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