JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – After three days of tough competition under unusual conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Regional Health Command-Pacific here named the winners of its Joint Pacific Best Medic Competition on Nov. 19.
The winners were announced during RHC-P’s fall commander’s symposium, which was being held virtually due to the pandemic.
Sgt. Justin Akers, a medic assigned to U.S. Army Medical Activity-Japan, finished at the top of the pack. Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Baxter and Staff Sgt. Isreal Rivera, both assigned to Desmond T. Doss Army Health Clinic at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, took second and third place, respectively.
Holding the competition in Hawaii was prevented this year by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, RHC-P used a virtual format, where competitors completed Best Medic tasks individually, supervised by one or two other Soldiers to allow for social distancing and preventive medicine measures.
Each of the nine competitors faced the same tasks: the Army Combat Fitness Test, a written test and essay, weapons qualification, and a 12-mile road march in full field gear, with weapon.
“It feels great to have represented MEDDAC-Japan at this level,” Akers said. “I have been training for various events for months now, but I started working on training for the Best Medic events in mid-October.”
Akers, 23, a Surprise, Arizona, native who’s been in the Army five years, said he had the easiest time with the ACFT, since it’s “been a pet project of mine for months now,” but the road march was the hardest.
“Twelve miles is never fun for anyone, but I know it’s the benchmark of a fit Soldier,” Akers said. “I'm looking forward to representing my unit at the Army level.”
Akers, who said, “This is the first time I have competed in any Army competition,” attributed his success to working on his physical readiness.
“I take my fitness very seriously,” he said, “and I have made maxing the ACFT a personal goal of mine.”
Akers and Baxter were both awarded the Army Commendation Medal and will represent RHC-P at the Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark, Jr., Army Best Medic Competition in January at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
“It always feels good to finish well in a competition,” Baxter, the second-place finisher, said. “I applaud Sgt. Akers on taking first place and look forward to working alongside him at the Army competition in Georgia.”
Baxter, 33, a 10-year Army veteran from Smiths, Alabama, competed in last year’s RHC-P Best Medic competition at JBLM. Baxter said he’s competitive by nature and likes setting a goal and challenging himself to meet it.
He credited his wife, Sgt. Chantal Baxter, a medic in the Hawaii Army National Guard, for her support.
“[She’s] always motivating me and ensuring that I stay focused,” Baxter said. “Couldn't do any of this without her.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Abuoh Neufville, the RHC-P command sergeant major, said the Best Medic competition gives Soldiers a chance to push themselves in a tactical environment.
“The competition provided an opportunity for each competitor to test the limits of his or her technical, tactical and physical competencies,” Neufville said, “in response to patient care and survival scenarios based on multi-domain operations with asymmetrical challenges.”
Here’s the full list of competitors in this year’s Joint Pacific Best Medic Competition:
Tripler Army Medical Center: Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Minot, Staff Sgt. Nattawach Phoonsawat
Desmond T. Doss Army Health Clinic: Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Baxter, Staff Sgt. Isreal Rivera
Madigan Army Medical Center: Staff Sgt. James Williams, Staff Sgt. Joshua Underwood
MEDDAC-Japan: Sgt. Justin Akers
MEDDAC-Alaska: Maj. William Kilgore, Staff Sgt. Matthew Keele
RHC-P, headquartered at JBLM and in Honolulu, is the most geographically-dispersed command in Army Medicine, stretching more than 5,000 miles and five time zones across the Pacific. The command oversees Army medical treatment facilities and units in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii, Japan and South Korea.