Medics put to test on Fort Campbell as they try for coveted expert badge
April 30, 2009
- 30 Soldiers earned the coveted EFMB after rigorous training and testing
- 278 Soldiers began the course
- The evaluation spans six days: includes written and practical tests and other skills
- The test has not been administered at Fort Campbell since 2004 due to OPTEMPO
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (April 29, 2009) -- A medic ran through the woods and trudged through mud dodging small arms fire to get to his injured comrade. The screaming Soldier appeared to have a leg and an arm injury and needed immediate medical attention that the medic was ready to give.
1st Lt. Tom Collins, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, dragged his injured brother to nearby cover to work on his wounds. Collins quickly checked for hemorrhages, shock, consciousness and airway blockages. He dressed the Soldier's wounds and administered an IV, all with the supplies he carried in his small backpack.
This incident did not occur on a battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan, but at a training range on Fort Campbell.
Two hundred and seventy-eight Soldiers came out vying for the coveted Expert Field Medical Badge, but when the smoke had cleared 12 days later on, 30 Soldiers were named recipients, 17 from Fort Campbell.
Collins was one of 94 remaining Soldiers on April 22 being tested on combat lifesaving skills while in a combat-simulated environment. He completed his tactical combat lanes with passing marks, but still had day and night land navigation and a 12-mile road march to face.
This was Collins' first attempt at the badge, and though he did not receive it, he still received valuable training.
Two Bastogne Soldiers earned their badges.
2nd Lt. Marcus Lai, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, and Spc. Brandon A. Haak, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, trained long and hard to attain the badge, April 14- 24.
"It was a long process," said Haak. "I went into it with a strong attitude. There were times when I wasn't sure I was going to get it."
Both Soldiers went in not knowing what to expect, but had strong spirits to take on the task.
Not knowing anything to begin with really helped out, said Lai. "Everything they tell you, you just believe it and do it."
Both Lai and Haak have etched their names into Bastogne's history through their determination and hard work to earn the EFMB.
"Have faith in yourself, go into it and believe that you can do it," said Haak. Don't ever tell yourself 'I can't do this' because then you can't. As soon as you admit defeat to yourself then you've already given up."
"It's really physically, emotionally, and mentally draining at times but as long as you put forward 110 percent, you will make it through," he added. "Believe in yourself."
Strike Brigade also had two Soldiers achieve the badge, Staff Sgt. Alan Fullerton and his medic Cpl. Daniel Pugh.
"It's physically, mentally and emotionally taxing on the body," said Fullerton, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT. "It's difficult to see people fail out after spending more than a week training for it with them. The demands of the testing really test an individual."
"This is true stress training," said Pugh, HHC, 2nd Bn., 502nd Inf. Regt.. "You go out there and by the end of day one you are just hating life and you are completely taxed already," but one must be confident and push through the everyday stressors.
As for the Rakkasans, one Soldier out of the 26 sent, held out until the end. Spc. Jared Goodwin, senior line medic with Headquarters Company, 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment was the only Soldier from 3rd Brigade Combat Team to earn the badge.
Goodwin re-classed from infantry to the medical field in August and joined the Rakkasans in January.
"The EFMB was pretty tough, definitely harder than when I earned my [Expert Infantry Badge]," Goodwin said.
The course starts with a week of learning the standards for the test. This involves three lanes of 42 different tasks. The Soldiers must successfully complete the tasks while EFMB instructors help them through the process. "It's hard to cram all 42 tasks and prepare for their tests in five days," said Sgt. 1st Class William Ott, test control officer. "They have to train before they come."
Complete study guides for the test are available online. Collins noted that he was studying hard every night after the training.
The hardest part about the evaluation for Collins was the memorization. "You learn how to be a medic in a week," he said.
Collins redeployed in November from Iraq. "In combat you just react to everything. I was never the one doing any of the treatment, but you just react to it because it's in your training. For this one there are steps you have to go by, so you just memorize the steps and go down."
The evaluation spans six days and includes a 60-question written test, tactical combat casualty care, warrior skills, communication skills, medical and casualty evacuation skills, land navigation and a road march.
The Soldiers are required to live at the training area for the duration of the course. Their living quarters are basic to that of any field training exercise, with no delays for weather.
"The goal is to have better trained [Soldiers]," said Col. Richard Thomas, EFMB holder and commander of Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. "Even if they get a no go, last week they trained and this week they trained. They still get credit for their training. They can get their EMT certifications revalidated."
Thomas received his EFMB on his first attempt while stationed in Panama.
"This is probably the toughest skill badge to earn," said Thomas. "The Expert Infantry Badge is tough training, but it's not nearly as hard as EFMB. This is so task oriented."
There is lots of room for error, he added.
"I've seen some people with eight attempts," said Ott. "Most people don't earn the badge on their first attempt. People come out and they don't know what to expect. Then they can go back and prepare for their next outing."
Ott received his EFMB on his second attempt at Fort Hood in 1984. "It took me twice and I'm the test control officer."
Historically the test graduates 20 percent of more than 1,000 candidates a year. Last year's graduation rate was 17.5 percent.
The test has not been administered at Fort Campbell since 2004 due to frequent deployment operations. This resulted in 85 percent of the turnout being first-time test takers.
In 2007, the structure of the evaluations was revamped to integrate tactical casualty combat care, a change provoked by operations in the Middle East.
"Predating it was basic World War II medicine and old field dressings," Ott said. "Tactical combat casualty care is currently being utilized by medics on the battlefield."
The highest failure point for Soldiers is in the tactical casualty combat lanes, followed by land navigation. The tactical combat lanes are hands-on reaction based testing, requiring the Soldier to negotiate through a scenario-based lane.
Soldiers may complete all tasks and written exams successfully but still fail if they are unable to complete the 12-mile road march in three hours.
"The [Soldiers] that do the best are the privates coming right out of AIT. This is exactly what they are taught," said Lt. Col. Brian Smalley, chief of Aviation Health Clinic and soon to be Fort Campbell's next division surgeon. Smalley is the president of the board that organized the EFMB training and evaluations for Fort Campbell.
The top two qualifiers were Capt. Robin Fine, 101st CAB and Capt. Jason Yellman from the 159th CAB, both of the 101st Airborne Division.
Although Collins did not earn the badge this time around, he left with words of encouragement to Soldiers like himself that will return for another shot. "Come out and do it again. We have an E7 out here on his fourth time. The next time you can prepare for it and come out strong."
(Reporters from 1st, 2nd and 3rd Brigade Combat Teams contributed to this article)