JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- There are 15,000 medics in the United States Army. The 56 who composed the 28 two-Soldier teams that competed in this year's Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Army Best Medic Competition this past week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., are the best of the best. The competition closed out with an award ceremony at Carey Theater on Friday, Sept. 27.
After 72 grueling hours of event after event, never knowing what the next one would be, the team that came out on top may have benefitted from home field advantage.
Sgt. Manuel Sanchez and Spc. Jared Gamble of the 7th Infantry Division, which calls JBLM home, scored a total of 93 points to capture the Best Medic title.
Gamble summed up the event from the stage, beaming from his shared victory.
"This competition was extremely difficult. It represents what we're supposed to be prepared for in the future -- a vast amount of physical exercise and then, after being drained both mentally and physically, then to be able to perform our medical tasks with excellence," he said.
Sanchez had to thank all the other competitors, who ranked from specialist to captain and traveled from across the globe, for their inspiration.
"If I didn't see how hard you guys were working, I don't know if I would have been able to draw up that internal strength, honestly, I don't know if it was there without you guys," he said.
Beyond the support of the other competitors, the cadre and their unit, Gamble and Sanchez paid tribute to their wives, asking them to come to the stage for a photo. They obliged to great applause.
Rounding out the top three teams were, in second place with a total of 81 points, Capt. Seth Prosser and Capt. Michael Pikul of the 8th Army, headquartered at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, and Sgt. Tyler Fisher and Sgt. Aaron Tolson of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., with a total of 78 points in third place.
Appreciation for the Army medic
All the competitors received certificates of achievement; the top three teams received awards and plaques from the competition's community sponsors; and the winning team was also presented plaques by the JBLM Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, commander's coins from I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky, who was in attendance, and The Surgeon General as well as meritorious service medals.
The awards were presented by Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster, the commanding general of Regional Health Command Pacific and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, the senior enlisted advisor for Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) and The Surgeon General, representing, respectively, the host unit and the higher headquarters for all medical personnel.
From invocation to the Army song, the ceremony was imbued with exuberance.
Though the master of ceremonies recited the typical, "Please remain seated," during the reading of orders for the medals, the entire crowd stood just the same. They were led in this show of respect and support by Volesky.
This enthusiasm should come as no surprise as the namesake of the competition, Clark, who was the 13th command sergeant major of MEDCOM as well as the command sergeant major for Madigan Army Medical Center, Fort Lewis (as JBLM was called for decades before joint basing) and RHC-P's predecessor, earned the EFMB and the Combat Medic Badge and was a keen supporter of medics, knowing the vital role they play for all Army units, especially in combat situations.
Gragg put a fine point on the value of the medic in his remarks during the ceremony.
Reciting part of the combat medic prayer, Gragg said, "Help me be the finest medic both technically and tactically."
"That's what you are representing today, the best technically and tactically," he continued. "What you do today -- what our medics do across the battlefield -- is engage and support our warfighters to ensure they understand that if they are injured, if they are in need, you will be there. Not only will you be there, you will give them the best opportunity to come home."
Ready for anything, both day and night
"My first thoughts are, 'Wow, simply wow,'" said Maj. Gen. R. Scott Dingle, the acting surgeon general and acting commanding general of MEDCOM, when he visited the competition.
One event that provoked awe from Dingle was the water survival competition that requires the competitor to drop, weapon held above their head, from a 10 foot platform, blindfolded, swim the length of the pool, rescue a simulated casualty and tread water.
"This event is no joke," said Dingle. "They are being pushed to the edge, they have to dig down. They have to have intestinal fortitude that's going to have them giving their all, but they're also a team. Just listening to the process had me beat. But, I can tell these medics are ready."
Ready for any combat scenario is not just the goal, but the necessity.
The competitors were not told what the events would be, or when they would encounter any task they might assume would be part of the competition.
One event was listed only as "mystery event" on the schedule. It turned out to be something of a medic's scavenger hunt requiring the competitors to collect medical supplies from various locations, race to an end point and treat role players with simulated injuries in the field. When they finished, they had to complete a written test onsite. As is often the case in the Pacific Northwest, it was pouring down rain for that event.
A cut above
Despite multiple ruck marches, obstacle courses, M4 range qualifications, land navigation that started in daylight and stretched into the wee hours of darkness, and even K-9 first aid, these competitors were more than up to the task.
Just to be eligible to compete for Best Medic, a Soldier has to have already earned the Combat Medical Badge or Expert Field Medical Badge -- both highly competitive and rigorous events themselves.
As the competition wrapped up and the host unit's commanding general offered words of reinforcement to a weary crew, he remained impressed.
"I watched you come across the line and you're still smiling -- the lights are on and folks are home. That's what makes the Army fantastic; there's nothing but winners here," said LeMaster. "I bet you could do three more days of this. We won't test it, but I bet you could. That's what makes the Army good -- it's in the soul; it's in your heart."
These medics showed heart throughout, and in a panoply of ways.
Unlike the other competitions, Best Medic is a team event.
Team is what Sgt. Nicholas Taussig and Sgt. Michael Johnson of U.S. Army Alaska had in mind when they quietly endeavored to carry their team with them.
The sergeants had 84 dog tags created, one for every member of their brigade who was killed in action since 2005.
"We come to this competition and we do this to try to help people and these are people we never got the chance to help," said Johnson of the reasoning behind the show of solidarity.
Taussig quietly added of his fallen brothers in arms, "They're part of the team."
Each Soldier carried half during every moment of the competition, proving that as much as this demanding competition may have tested their bodies, their brains and the skill of their hands, it never touched the capacity of their hearts.