FORT BLISS, Texas -- Sweat drips off the Soldier's nose as he crouches over the prone body before him. He is talking as he works. "I am checking to see if he is bleeding. I see that he is. I am exposing the wound, and now I am going to apply a pressure dressing and bandage." He says this partially to the Soldier standing near him holding a clip board, and partially to himself so he can remember everything he needs to do to accomplish his goal, which is to be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge, and this is one of the tasks.
Two-hundred and four candidates from as far away as Missouri and Oklahoma joined local Soldiers at Fort Bliss Aug. 29-Sept. 3 to try and earn the prestigious badge. By the time the testing was over only 39 claimed the badge as their own.
"These recipients standing before you have gone through an arduous event," Col. George Kyle, commander 31st Combat Support Hospital, said at the graduation ceremony. "They had to execute 42 different events over the last few days. These events weren't done in an air-conditioned building, but out here, in the sand, the heat, and in the sun."
The EFMB was established in June 1965, and the first EFMB competition took place at Fort Sam Houston, the home of Army medicine, in January 1967.
"Like the Expert Infantry Badge the EFMB was designed to represent excellence for Soldiers," said Col. Allen Darden, commander 1st Medical Brigade. "It is the most sought after peacetime award a Soldier can get. These Soldiers are a portrait of excellence."
Like most symbols of excellence this one is difficult to earn. Since established, approximately 20 percent of those who test receive the coveted badge.
To earn the EFMB successful candidates had to pass a written test in general military and medical knowledge. They were evaluated on their ability to conduct tactical combat casualty care, casualty evacuation, and care under fire, as well as warrior skills that included communications, movement under direct fire, land navigation and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear tasks.
For those that made it through those tests, there was still one final obstacle ahead of them, a 12-mile ruck march while carrying a standard 35 lb. load, in less than three hours.
For many of the Soldiers the desire to prove they are the best kept them going through the competition.
"I wanted to do this to show my guys thatthey have a competent medic," said Spc. Kyle Inscho, 3rd Brigade 1st Artillery Division. "The cool thing about this badge is it is all on you, your skills, and your knowledge. You can get a combat medical badge by being in combat as a medic, but the EFMB demonstrates that you are the best."
For the candidates, it was the little things that made the difference between earning the badge and going home.
"It was the little things that tripped me up," said Spc. Christopher Molina, a medic with 1st Armored Division. "There are all these things that you have to remember to do, and my mind went to mush. I forgot a lot of little things like checking the pulse or exposing the wound." Molina, unfortunately was part of the majority that didn't make it but he has plans to try again.
Staff Sgt. Nathen Ledoux, an instructor at the U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said he wanted to earn the badge to show his Soldiers what they should shoot for.
"This is the most prestigious and challenging thing a Soldier in the medical field can do," he said.
Every candidate said they were pushed to their limit, and each found aspects of the competition challenging. Capt. Kristopher Villamin, an intensive care nurse at William Beaumont Army Medical Center said he found lane two, which had him trying to complete tasks while wearing full Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear the most difficult.
"I am not used to wearing it: it was hot, suffocating. It was challenging," he said.
Spc. Joshua Minich, a combat medic also assigned to William Beaumont Army Medical Center, said night land navigation was his biggest worry.
"I do the medical stuff every day, but I am not very good at land navigation," said Minich. "It's not a self-correcting course, and there are no landmarks, so it is easy to get off track. Fortunately, I found my points and I passed."
"This is a perishable skill," 1st Sgt. Ruben Gonzalez, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the competition said about land navigation. "We rely on blue force trackers and GPS to tell us how to get somewhere, but when faced with nothing but a map and a compass … many of us get lost."
After completing the ruck march, a tired Ledoux thought back on the past few days. "This was the hardest thing I have ever done," he said as he rubbed his aching legs. "I am glad I accomplished this."
Any Soldier holding a medical service job in the U.S. Army can compete for the EFMB. The next competition is slated to take place in the spring.