By Spc. Noelle WieheNovember 1, 2017
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Two combat medic Soldiers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade have been chosen to be the brigade's first-ever team to compete in the Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Army's Best Medic Competition Oct. 27 through Nov. 2 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Howe and Sgt. Gabriel Griffin were selected, from among their peers within the 1st SFAB, to represent the unit based on their physical ability and competence in the 68W -- combat medic -- military occupation specialty.
The 1st SFAB on Kelley Hill in Fort Benning, Georgia, is designed to provide geographic combatant commanders with master tacticians who train, advise, assist, accompany and enable allied and partnered foreign security forces.
"That they are out there wanting to represent the SFAB as a new unit, I think it speaks volumes to the type of medics they are and to the type of medics that we have here in the SFAB," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Reynado, brigade senior medic, 1st SFAB. "It's just incredible initiative on all their parts."
Soldiers compete in teams of two for the competition as they are challenged physically and intellectually in a demanding, continuous and realistic simulated operational environment. Soldiers will be tested on their tactical medical proficiency and leadership of the teams.
Howe, 6th Battalion, 51st Infantry Regiment, 1st SFAB, said he serves as a clinic and treatment NCOIC while at the 1st SFAB and enjoys imparting the knowledge he's gained throughout his enlistment with an entire clinic of fellow Soldiers.
Howe said he had always considered himself a "jack of all trades," and could tackle any career he set his mind to -- but decided that practicing medicine would be a morally rewarding challenge. After attending his brother, Matt's, graduation from the Marine Corps recruit training, he said he got the military bug and began researching the different branches.
He enlisted in the Army in January of 2011 with an option 40 Airborne Ranger contract to attend Airborne School at Fort Benning after his initial entry training, and attend the Ranger Assessment Selection Program after he had earned the parachutist badge at Airborne. He was en route to the United States Special Operations Command when he was told he'd be joining the conventional force.
Howe made his way to the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he said his career as combat medic really took off.
"It gave me a lot of strength and a lot of drive to be more successful," Howe said.
Howe then spent two to three months at a scout platoon, where he decided he was ready and willing to go to Ranger School. He recycled mountain phase, but ultimately graduated the school and earned his Ranger tab.
Howe was made the company senior medic at his scout platoon where he served for three-and-a-half years before he deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, in 2015. In Iraq, Howe said one experience taught him a valuable lesson of the combat medic world.
Howe said an Australian contractor entered the clinic before Howe's shift, claiming chest pain. The man eventually collapsed. Howe arrived and joined in with other medics, performing CPR for 10 minutes before the contractor passed away.
Howe said he wasn't necessarily insensitive to people's symptoms prior to the incident, but he considered it an awakening experience in his line of work.
"Push your personal feelings out of the way, and focus more on the medical signs; let the science tell you that there is nothing wrong," Howe said.
Howe said it is the passing on of his skills and lessons learned that has kept him in his MOS. While he first enjoyed helping fellow Soldiers, he now enjoys teaching and setting the standards.
"As you progress through the ranks as a medic -- from private on up to sergeant -- you're performing the medicine; you're doing a lot of doing," Howe said. "You're doing, you're doing, you're doing. As you progress through the ranks, it is more sharing the knowledge you've accumulated through that doing with junior Soldiers."
Howe competed in the 82nd Airborne Division Best Medic Competition in 2016, but didn't place.
"You need to be well-rounded as a Soldier in order to be able to compete," Howe said.
Howe reached out to the post responsible for hosting this year's competition to request a slot for the 1st SFAB to send a team to compete, which prompted a selection process within the brigade.
During his time as a medic with the 1st SFAB, Howe said he has been excited to get back to the competition, with even more knowledge that he wishes he had when he was a private first class.
"I get to work with other Soldiers that had been selected for being exceptional," Howe said. "I think I am an exceptional Soldier, and I get to work with other Soldiers that are also exceptional to create something extremely exceptional."
One of those Soldiers was Griffin, who was serving with the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment Task Force, on Fort Benning when he was selected to be a part of the 1st SFAB.
"I love teaching my guys, so I just thought it'd be an incredible experience to not only deploy and potentially treat traumatic injury but to also teach (allied partners) to do it for themselves," Griffin said. "Something about it seemed exciting."
Griffin, 3rd Battalion, 52nd Infantry Division, 1st SFAB, joined the Army knowing he wanted to serve as a combat medic following his experience as a volunteer emergency medical technician at his home in Randolph County, North Carolina.
"The way the EMTs looked coming off the ambulance -- there was something that my 19-year old self liked about it," Griffin said.
Griffin enjoyed the work, but after seeing a lot of his care go to what were essentially self-inflicted wounds and minor injuries, he decided he wanted to do something more. He talked with fellow EMT who was an Army veteran and former 68W, who encouraged him to join the military as a combat medic.
Griffin enlisted at 19-years old in May of 2013 and began his first day of basic training on his 20th birthday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
He worked in a clinic for the first year-and-a half of his Army career, helping patients with their primary care and aiding Soldiers who visit sick call.
He then served as a line medic for tank crew members in Fort Kiley, Kansas; where he deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, for nine months; and served as a line medic here with the 1-28 Task Force for seven months.
Sgt. Angela Kim, medical advisor, 1st SFAB, had been in the 1-28 Task Force with Griffin since February and said he was always the go-to guy and was very reliable.
"Among all the other senior line medics, he was the one that got the job done, and I could trust him doing it," Kim said.
Griffin said the time he spent with the task force revealed to him how much he loved teaching. He was serving as the senior medic with three medics underneath him and helping them hone their combat medic skills while at the task force.
"I think that really shaped and molded me and helped me kind of recalculate some of my ideas, thoughts and education," Griffin said. "It's kind of a wake-up moment for what you know or what you don't know when you've got to teach other guys."
Howe and Griffin trained together as much as they could since finding out they were going to the competition. They look forward to potentially bringing home the title for the first time for the 1st SFAB.
"I like to succeed as a team," Howe said. "Being able to go with a partner and working together to accomplish something like that, I personally find fulfilling."
Howe feels their training with the 1st SFAB has prepared him and his partner for the competition.
"We're squared away as warriors, and we're squared away as medics," Howe said. "To be able to win it for SFAB (would) show the rest of the Army the type of caliber Soldiers that we're bringing here."
For information on the ABMC, or to track the 1st SFAB team's progress in the competition, visit the competition Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ArmyBestMedicCompetition. Soldiers interested in joining the 1st SFAB should contact their branch manager.