Grueling 72-hour competition tests Army's best medics
November 1, 2012
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-CAMP BULLIS -- Sixty-four Soldiers from across the Army competed to earn the title of best medic during a grueling 72-hour competition Oct. 26 to 28 at Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis.
The Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Army Best Medic Competition, now in its second year, originally evolved from the Expert Field Medical Competition.
The 32 two-Soldier teams were challenged both physically and intellectually to test their tactical medical proficiency, physical fitness and leadership skills.
"These Soldier medics may be competitors today, but they will be heroes tomorrow," said Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, Army surgeon general and commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Command.
"The combat medic is the key component in the greater than 90 percent survival rate of our combat wounded."
After meeting only a month ago, Staff Sgt. Andrew Balha from Evans Army Community Hospital, Fort Carson, Colo. and Staff Sgt. Alexander Folsom from Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Wash. representing Western Regional Medical Command earned the title of best Army medic.
"Honestly, I was really surprised [we won]. I didn't think it would be us," Balha said.
It was Balha's first time competing in the best medic competition; Folsom competed last year.
"This year's competition was much more physically demanding. It had a lot more medical tasks than last year," Folsom said. "There was a great improvement to the competition overall."
The first day each team received a written test, which they were allowed to carry with them throughout the events.
Teams rotated between the physical fitness challenge, obstacle course and the M-9 and M-4 stress shoots.
Balha liked the fact that the Soldiers could choose the order in which they competed in each day's events.
"You didn't have to go to one point, you had choices. It kind of rewarded forward thinking," he said.
Folsom credited Balha for his planning.
"It kept us in the front pretty much the whole time," Folsom said.
The team managed to garner two of the eight bicycles left for competitors to use to get from one event to another.
The physical fitness challenge and the obstacle course tested each competitors' strength and agility, while the M-9 and M-4 stress shoots allowed each team to demonstrate their marksmanship skills.
Inclement weather caused a three-hour delay during the first day of competition.
Once the rain stopped, the teams reset to where they left off. The teams who were unable to complete all of the day's events were allowed to finish them on day two.
The advanced night land navigation course began at 11 p.m.
Teams were flown by helicopter and inserted into the innermost parts of JBSA-Camp Bullis. Once on the ground, each team had to locate grid coordinate locations using terrain association and topographical maps.
Day two brought new challenges for the competitors.
The teams navigated through the urban assault course engaging mock enemy, treating casualties and watching each other's back.
Three combat casualty lanes tested the competitors' ability to perform casualty care in close quarters and evacuate wounded safely.
"One of the medical lanes was pretty demanding," Folsom said.
"We were carrying an approximately 200-pound man up about a 90-degree incline," explained Balha. "It was pretty physically demanding. I think that was the toughest part.
"Being physically prepared is the key," he said.
The night combat medic lane tested each teams' ability to perform medical tasks under the cover of darkness using the tactical simulator for military medicine.
The competition concluded on day three with the competitors' turning in their written exam, more combat casualty care, a litter obstacle course and a timed 2.7 mile buddy run.
"I congratulate all of the competitors for their efforts in this competition and their contributions every day to our Soldiers and their families," Horoho said.
Priscilla Clark, widow of Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Clark, also sent a letter of congratulations to the competitors.
"Congratulations to all the teams for being chosen to compete in this prestigious competition," she wrote. "Please know that you represent the very best that the Army Medical Command has to offer."
To the winning team she wrote … "This distinction will be highly regarded throughout your military career as well as in your personal achievements."
Both Folsom and Balha said they would encourage other Soldiers to compete in the Army's Best Medic Competition.
"This competition showed me a good way to train my Soldiers," Balha said.