By Staff Sgt. Mark MirandaApril 15, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Of the 246 candidates that attempted to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge, 33 qualified on the last day following a 12-mile road march, April 12.
Candidates from as far away as Joint Base Richardson-Elmendorf, Alaska, and Fort Drum, N.Y., joined local Soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to try for the prestigious Army Medical Department badge.
Each of these Soldiers endured tests of individual physical fitness, mental toughness and their abilities to perform to standards of excellence in a wide range of critical medical and Soldier skills.
"It's a really significant accomplishment, and I had the opportunity to observe some of the great training these Soldiers did in preparation," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, deputy commanding general, I Corps. "About 13% of the candidates made it through to the end, which is above the Army average of around 11 or 12 percent."
The candidates were tested on medical, communication, evacuation and combat skills. Those who qualified also successfully completed a written examination, and day and night land navigation courses.
"This is a tough test. When I think of the medical corps, the Army value that comes to mind is selfless service," Buchanan said. "It's about making sacrifices for the good of others, doing what's right for the team and medics epitomize that value."
At Memorial Field, Buchanan pinned the successful Soldiers with their EFMBs during an awards ceremony.
Established in 1965, the EFMB is a prestigious Department of the Army-level special skill award for the recognition of exceptional competence and outstanding performance by Army medical personnel.
"My first sergeant strongly encouraged me to go for this, so I gave it my best and I'm glad I did," said Spc. Mark Becker, a health care specialist currently assigned to 10th Combat Support Hospital, Fort Carson, Colo., who has been in the Army for five years. "I didn't know I could finish a 12-mile ruck march; but I've discovered I can do that along with everything else I've done. It makes moving to my next unit soon less intimidating."
For the road march, participants carried a specified packing list in their ruck sacks weighing approximately 35 lbs., and had to complete the 12-mile route within three hours.
Becker's next assignment will be at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii.
"The march was the most intimidating piece, because I've had a few problems with my back and I hadn't trained up as much as I would've liked to, and I wasn't sure that I was going to make it," Becker said. With this accomplishment, Becker said he gained enough points to be considered for promotion.
A few of the candidates were relieved to succeed this time after previous attempts. Some were seeking to challenge themselves.
Sgt. Andrew Lester, a combat medic assigned to 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Bde. is a native of Brownville, N.Y., and was I Corps' 2012 Soldier of the Year.
"For me, that first combat medic lane that we went through was the toughest to complete," Lester said. "It was just so detail-oriented, that you could forget one tiny little thing, something like a pulse check…and you've failed that task right away. It was those tiny little things that added up and got a lot of people out of qualifying."
"I was confident after the written exam, but I found out I barely made the cut. It means a lot to me to have earned this, and on my first attempt," Lester said.
Many levels of experience were represented during the EFMB qualification weeks.
"The toughest part about all this is that I've only been in the Army nine months, so coming here was intimidating - I had to become an expert really quickly," said Pfc. Christopher Anderson, a combat medic assigned to 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, Fort Drum, N.Y.
"I needed the help from the cadre during train-up week. They really knew how to help us review as they were experts themselves," Anderson said. "Personally, to have accomplished this means a lot as my unit back home is proud of me. Having gone through this experience, it's an opportunity now for me to give back."
Any Soldier who has a medical military occupation or medically-related position within Army Medicine are eligible to earn and wear the EFMB.
"The EFMB is the most sought-after peacetime skill badge in the Army Medical Department," Buchanan said. "It is a portrait of excellence."