By Capt. Robert Gallimore, 30th MED BDE Public Affairs
Maj. Jason Hughes and Capt. Kenneth Koehler, 421st Medical Battalion (Multifunctional) Public Affairs
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Some 69 remaining Soldiers among 183 competitors received the prestigious Expert Field Medical Badge March 27 during a ceremony held in Tower Gymnasium here after a grueling week of intense testing during the U.S. Army Europe EFMB competition.
Awardees included five allied personnel from the United Kingdom and Germany in addition to 64 U.S. service members.
Maj. Gen. John R. O'Connor, commanding general of 21st Theater Sustainment Command, presided over the ceremony, offering congratulations, encouragement and insights into the competition.
"The EFMB is a true mark of success among military medical personnel, and these personnel before you have reached that mark," the CG said. O'Connor's medical Soldiers figured prominently not only as competitors in but administrators of the event.
Successful candidates completed six days of rigorous training, called "standardization," and five grueling days of testing to earn the highly coveted badge during this year's USAREUR-sponsored competition. At the start of testing, 172 U.S. military and 11 international military candidates from Germany and the United Kingdom were in contention for the badge. The CG placed this year's competition in historic context and praised the units - the 421st Multifunction Medical Battalion and the U.K.'s 1st Armoured Medical Regiment in particular - responsible for the success of the event.
Historically, EFMB events award the badge to approximately 17 percent of candidates, and as little as five percent of international candidates. Of the 189 candidates who began training on March 13, 183 tested for the badge and 69 attained the badge-- a success rate of 38 percent overall and 36 percent for international candidates, stated in his address to the graduates,
Before any candidates arrived, an alert to deploy activated the 421st Medical Battalion (Multifunctional), 30th Medical Brigade, 21st TSC to deploy in support of the EFMB event. On Feb. 23, the unit began expeditionary pre-deployment operations, to include medical and personnel processing, legal preparations of wills and powers of attorney and the loading of all equipment required for an early entry element, the portion of the battalion headquarters designated as the mission command element for the EFMB. The unit incorporated tactical sling load operations via a UH-60 helicopter supported by the "Blue Stars" crew from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment. This was followed by convoy operations into the operational area. 421st MMB developed an elaborate area of operations which spanned six training ranges at Vilseck and Grafenwoehr Training Areas. Along with allies from the U.K.'s 1st Armoured Medical Regiment, the U.S. and British service members deployed over 300 cadre and support personnel to establish, maintain and train for validation by the Testing Control Office of the U.S. Army's Medical Department.
On March 16, the first day of standardization, 189 hopeful candidates arrived ready to train on the four testing lanes: three combat testing lanes, or CTLs, and a land navigation lane. Most had studied for months to take the 60-question multiple choice test and worked diligently in preparation for field tasks.
When testing began on March 22, 183 candidates remained. Each day, candidates tested on the three CTLs and the land navigation course. Daily, an average of 20 percent of the remaining candidates were dropped from competition for one of several reasons: receiving too many "no-gos" in a testing category, a medical issue or administrative reasons.
Combat Testing Lane 1 included 10 of the 12 medical treatment, or tactical combat casualty care, tasks. This lane eliminated the most candidates of any lane, almost 20 percent of the competitor field fell. Spc. Brian McCoy, a U.S. Soldier from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's Bavaria Dental Activity Clinic, told himself before starting CTL One, "to stay calm. When I go through the lane, I'll take my time to ensure each task is done correctly and according to the standard."
CTL 2, which eliminated the least (14 candidates), proved daunting to international candidates who were unfamiliar with some of the equipment. It was a lane riddled with tasks focused on protecting oneself from a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack. Pvt. Matthew Majors of the U.K.'s 1st Armoured Medical Regiment was asked what he thought prior to attempting the lane.
"Coming to EFMB, this is the lane I was most nervous for. I felt like we had good information on the exercise prior to coming out here, but we don't get a lot of opportunity to use CBRN equipment," he said.
The candidates were also tested on many casualty evacuation tasks, which were mainly present in joint-commanded CTL 3. Personnel from the 1st AMR and 421st MMB developed the evacuation lane, day and night land navigation lane and a 60 question written test. Pvt. Molly Hughes, a medic of 1st AMR and an evaluator for CTL 3 explained how she felt to be part of this event with her unit after earning her badge last September.
"I am so proud. To have them want to go through it, it's amazing. Even though some of our Soldiers didn't earn their badge, they still loved it," she said. Hughes stated that her own personal motto, "In arduis fidelis," which is Latin for "Faithful in adversity," is a motto she adopted from her nation's medical corps. She passed this motto to candidates as motivation.
The final event of test week, a 12-mile ruck march, started in the training area and ended at the site of the graduation and pinning ceremony. The ruck march event required candidates to carry all of their gear inside of their ruck sack while carrying their individually assigned rifle and a CBRN protective mask. The service members had to complete the march in three hours or less without assistance while maintaining accountability of all their equipment.
Before the ruck march, supporting members stood in wait 200 meters down the road from the starting line, ready to run 11 miles with their candidate in hopes that they were just the motivation they needed to earn the badge. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Miller from Haines City, Florida, was one of these service members.
Seventy-four candidates stepped off at 6 a.m. on the morning of the ruck march. Those who crossed the finish line before 9 a.m. knew they would earn the badge. As the ruck march drew to an end, 69 candidates crossed the finish line on time and earned their badge in the follow-on ceremony held at the Tower Gymnasium. Porter paced McCoy to a finish in 2 hours and 33 minutes. When asked if he would earn his badge in the Fall, Porter exclaimed, "I AM getting my EFMB in August!"