Soldiers overcome grueling test of skill to earn coveted Expert Field Medical Badge
February 6, 2009
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Statistically, the expert field medical badge is one of the toughest badges a Soldier can earn.
With an attrition rate of 84.7 percent in 2008, only the best of the best ever get pinned.
After two grueling weeks in the various training areas of Fort Lewis, 32 Soldiers earned the right to wear the EFMB and were awarded it at a ceremony Jan. 30 at Soldiers Field House.
The EFMB was established in June 1965 as a special skill award for the recognition of exceptional competence and outstanding performance by field medical staff.
The EFMB is the medical equivalent of the expert infantrymen's badge, but is said to be harder to earn than the EIB.
"One of the testing board members who came up here ... had his EIB along with his EFMB and he said the EFMB was more difficult to obtain," said Maj. Woodrow Nash, officer in charge of the testing. "Because you're not just doing Soldier tasks; you're actually doing medical tasks, also."
Testing for the EFMB includes a written test, a day and night land navigation test, three different combat testing lanes and a 12-mile road march.
Soldiers are given one week to go through all of the CTLs, brush up on any necessary skills and ask as many questions as they can. The second week, however, is all business.
Testing changed in 2008 to better reflect situations on a real battlefield, according to Nash.
"We (used to have a) standard course where the Soldier would have a litter, three squad members and they would perform tasks through what we called the litter obstacle course - going through, above and under obstacles," Nash said. "Now that obstacle course is a task within (a) combat testing lane."
Within that CTL, the Soldier must also assemble a radio, establish a helicopter landing zone, call for a medevac and then load other casualties onto an LMTV and a humvee, while being graded on each task.
"Under the old standard, the Soldier would have just done the litter obstacle course and that would have been it. Then he would have moved on to his next event," Nash said. "Now they have to go through what was called the litter obstacle course on to other tasks. "A Soldier now has to think, 'OK, litter obstacle course. What comes after that'' And not just immediately after that, but what's the task an hour from now'"
Soldiers who fail any part of the testing as the week goes on are dismissed, leaving only a fraction of those who began testing once the final day arrives. Those who make it to the final day have to finish a 12-mile road march in three hours.
Though there were a few who were unable to complete the road march in the allotted three hours, most Soldiers who began the march finished in time.
Of those passing the final task, none cut it closer than Spc. Gemma Harris, who ran as fast as she could down the final stretch, dove for the finish line and crossed it with a second to spare.
"Watching her cross that line was actually worth the two-week event, because she came in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds," Nash said. "And you hear so many stories of Soldiers who make it in 3 hours, 2 seconds. To have her, those last 15 steps, dash for the finish line and dive, that made it all worth it. That was as dramatic a finish as you'll ever see at the EFMB."
Though not having to dive for his badge, Capt. Kyle Peper, who was testing for his second time, crossed the finish line with only five minutes to spare.
"(The testing) has transformed since the last time I took it," he said. "It's much more (focused on) combat simulation."
Peper said the medical lane was the most difficult part of the testing for him.
"I'm a dietitian by trade, so ... putting IVs in and treating trauma, I don't do that every day. In fact, I never do that," he said. "So it's great training for any medical MOS."
Peper, who is with the Medical Department Activity at Fort Irwin, Calif., also said earning his EFMB has been a goal of his from the beginning.
"It means a lot," he said of earning the badge. "It's been something I've sought after since I was commissioned in the Army and found out about it."
First Lt. James Dougherty of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment said his reasoning behind getting the EFMB was to set an example for his Soldiers.
"It's something that I wanted to do so I can have a better understanding of what my medics go through," he said. "As a (medical officer) we don't have the extensive medical training that they do. I just wanted to go through and do what they do."
Dougherty, who also completed Ranger School, said he was told by a first sergeant that only schools with high attrition rates are worth applying for.
"The attrition rate (for the EFMB) was higher than Ranger School," Dougherty said. "I'm proud to count it amongst my accomplishments."
Matt Smith is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.