FORT BLISS, Texas -- "I walked over to the NCO of my starting lane for land navigation and I asked him, 'Hey sergeant, do you want me to line up behind you?'" said DeMarsico as he recalled the first time he participated in Expert Field Medical Badge qualification testing. "He said, 'I need your name and roster number.' I did not think anything of it at the time so I went out and found all four of my points. When I came back he told me I was going to be an administrative 'no-go' for the lane because I spoke to him."

Recently promoted U.S. Army Spc. Thomas DeMarsico, a combat medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Polk, first attempted to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge at Fort Bliss, Texas. The 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division hosted the special qualification testing in September.

"I attempted to rebut the decision with the board because AR 350-10 says you cannot talk to other candidates during land nav, not the cadre," DeMarsico said. "The board denied my rebuttal. That was it; they just dropped me. I was super crushed after that. I decided at that moment I was done with EFMB and the Army."

Similar to the expert infantry badge, the EFMB is not an easy badge to earn. Combat medics wanting to earn the coveted badge must be physically and mentally prepared to undergo rigorous testing after being recommended by their unit commanders.

Fort Polk's 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div medics on temporary duty in the Fort Bliss area were invited to participate in EFMB qualification testing. When DeMarsico found out he had the opportunity to attend the testing he immediately volunteered.

"I always take every opportunity that comes my way," DeMarsico said. "I know that EFMB really sets you apart from your peers."

EFMB candidates must successfully receive a "go" on all five sections of EFMB testing: The Army Physical Fitness Test, a written test, land navigation, combat testing lanes and a 12-mile forced march.

Candidates must receive a score of 80% or higher in each event of the APFT and be in compliance with Army height and weight standards. The only re-testable section is the written test in which candidates must successfully answer 60 out of 80 questions.

On the second day of testing Soldiers must receive a "go" for both day and night land navigation. During the combat testing lanes medics must complete 43 tasks correctly: 10 tactical combat casualty care tasks, 10 evacuation tasks, 13 warrior skills tasks and five communication tasks.

After learning that his leadership tried to get him readmitted to the Fort Bliss qualification, DeMarsico realized that accepting defeat was not an option.

"I felt so much better knowing that they had my back," Demarisco said. "They were willing to send us again so I was willing to try again."

DeMarsico was afforded the opportunity to test again, this time at Fort Hood, Texas. DeMarsico, along with three other medics from 2nd Bn, 4th Inf Reg,were sent to Fort Hood to attend EFMB qualification hosted by 1st Medical Brigade. Standardization of the combat testing lanes began Sept. 23, with testing beginning Sept. 28 and ending with the forced march on Oct. 4.

One hundred and fifty-five Soldiers started the event. DeMarsico was one of six medics that successfully earned the EFMB. He was the only junior enlisted to successfully complete the qualification.

DeMarsico attributed his success to lane standardization he received at Fort Bliss.

"We tried to train up for the Bliss EFMB but it was hard to tell exactly how the lanes would be run," DeMarsico said. "After seeing the lanes at Bliss we knew how to study. I knew what I needed to work on. It helped me a lot."

Although DeMarsico said he felt confident about the combat testing lanes, there was another area where he did not feel as confident. A self-proclaimed land navigation expert, DeMarsico admitted the night land navigation course was tough.

The first time DeMarsico went through EFMB testing he was only able to complete day land navigation. With limited experience in navigating in the dark and a difference in terrain, DeMarsico was only able to find three out of the four points. Even though it was not a perfect score, it was enough for him to advance to the combat testing lanes. Out of the 155 that begin EFMB testing, only 19 medics passed land navigation testing.

During the final event of EFMB, nine Soldiers started the forced march but only six finished within the required three hour time limit. DeMarsico came in first place. For most Soldiers, coming in first during a timed 12-mile ruck march would feel like the crowning achievement. For DeMarsico, he felt frustration.

"My time was two hours and 56 seconds!" DeMarsico said. "Me and this major were in the lead the entire time, far ahead of everyone else. At the 11th mile marker point, the private giving directions told us to go down the wrong road. The major went a mile down that road with me trailing behind him. Luckily he had a GPS watch that told him he had hit 12 miles. He turned around, grabbed me and we went back to the 11-mile point. The private could not tell us the correct way to go. I walked into traffic and flagged down a car and asked him for directions to Cooper Field. The car drove slowly in front of us with the hazard lights and we followed him. Once I saw the finish line I sprinted to the end and came in first."

Although he was unhappy with his finish time for the 12-mile ruck march, DeMarsico said he was thankful he was able to pass all five events of EFMB testing. He said becoming a part of the 3% of medics who earn the EFMB is just the beginning. He hopes to attend Airborne and Ranger schools in the near future. Ultimately he would like to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and become a commissioned officer.

"West Point is my main goal," DeMarsico said. "I want to become an officer. I feel like if I can earn my EFMB then nothing is impossible. I devote my spare time to achieving my professional goals so I am always looking for ways to improve myself."

Hungry for more training, DeMarsico is preparing to attend the advanced combat life saver course on Fort Bliss.

"You have to want it," said DeMarsico when asked if he had any advice for Soldiers attending future EFMB testing. "Many of the people that I saw did not have the drive that is required to pass. You have to be physically and mentally prepared. The EFMB website has so much information to help you study so you have to develop a way that will help you memorize information the easiest."

DeMarsico encourages all Soldiers to keep trying no matter how many times they have to retest.

"I was proud to represent the brigade, 10th Mountain, 2-4 Infantry and my recon platoon," DeMarsico said. "I showed that it is not impossible for a junior enlisted to have a shot an EFMB. It does not matter who you are; you can do it. At the end of the day it all comes down to how hard you are willing to fight for it."