GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - To Spc. Matthew Holtz, it was always a team effort, he was just the one that received the honors.
Holtz, a medic with 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, was recognized as the honor graduate for U.S. Army Europe's Spring Expert Field Medical Badge testing which culminated with a ceremony for 21 candidates who earned the badge, March 21, at Tower Barracks Physical Fitness Center.
The event that began with 191 candidates, ran March 10-21 in the training area outside main post in Grafenwoehr, though support personnel arrived late February to establish logistical support and to set up and validate the course. Of those, 191, 179 candidates were from units across the U.S. Army Europe footprint. Twelve candidates were from international partners including Norway, Denmark, United Kingdom and Kosovo.
"The Soldiers I came with is what helped me the most," Holtz said. "We all studied together. They pushed me. Without them, I wouldn't have been motivated to do this."
The Expert Field Medical Badge is a U.S. Army decoration, first created June 18, 1965. The badge is awarded to medical personnel and is the non-combat equivalent of the Combat Medical Badge. The testing helps improve the Army's, and by extension, U.S. Army Europe's No. 1 priority -- readiness. The testing serves as timely training for medical personnel as Army Europe heads into its summer exercises.
"It gives the candidates a chance to test their professional skills in austere environments," said Col. Timothy Bosetti, 30th Medical Brigade commander, who's unit hosted the testing. "The lanes are tough. Physically and mentally challenging. This builds resiliency and the confidence that if you can do this here, you can do it anywhere."
The testing phase ran March 16-21 and followed a March 10-15 standardization phase that allowed candidates time to prepare for a 60-question written test, familiarize themselves with the three combat testing lanes, prepare for day and night land navigation, as well as a 12-mile ruck march which served as the culminating event.
Having standardization time is not to say that the testing phase was easy. Of the 191 total candidates that tested for the badge, only 23 passed. That's only 12 percent -- well under the U.S. Army-wide 17 percent pass rate in 2017. The written exam alone eliminated approximately half of the field. Then, add adverse weather conditions the candidates had to perform the tasks in.
"It's a tough badge to get to begin with," Bosetti, himself having earned the badge earlier in his career, said. "To do it out here in all the rain and snow we had, is amazing."
The average daily high was 35 degrees Fahrenheit with intermittent snow and rain during testing week.
"The weather was a killer," Holtz said. "Having to use your hands to handle the supplies, it just makes it harder, but that comes with being in Grafenwoehr."
Each of three testing lanes had its own unique mission. Each testing lane started with the assembly, disassembly and functions check of an M4 rifle. Then, depending on the lane, candidates would move under direct fire, indirect fire, or through obstacles such as barbed or concertina wire.
Candidates were then required to perform tasks such applying a tourniquet, reacting to unexploded ordnance or extracting casualties from a vehicle.
Additionally, candidates were tested on a range of skills including treating casualties for shock, preventing hypothermia, applying intravenous fluid, treating penetrating chest wounds, performing needle chest-decompression, as well as treating wounds to the head, abdomen, eyes, and arms. Candidates were also tested on their proficiency with operating in a Chemical, Biological, Nuclear or Radioactive environment.
"Lane two was the toughest," said Pfc. Adam Ridgeway, a medic with 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "There are so many consecutive steps that you have to remember on top of being familiar with your (Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology). From the moment they say 'Gas! Gas! Gas!' then it's all you."
Candidates that did not earn the badge, will have another opportunity later this year, as U.S. Army Europe conducts the testing twice a year - typically in March and September.