FORT POLK, Louisiana--The worst moment the two New York National Guard Soldiers who competed in the Army Best Medic Competition at Fort Polk, Louisiana said, was when they tried to land navigate in a cold driving rain coming in sideways.
“I never struggle with land navigation,” said Sgt. Thomas Mulhern. “But we couldn’t even take our map out for fear of getting drenched.”
They thought things wouldn’t be too bad at Fort Polk for the competition, said Sgt. Klayton McCallum.
“I was thinking the Gulf Coast in January. How bad can it be?” he recalled.
But when the wind was driving that day, he fell into a knee-deep pool of water.
“We found ourselves laughing that time,” Mulhern said.
“Every now and then you have to step out of your body. We both found it funny, the conditions we were doing land nav’ in,” he added.
Mulhern and McCallum, both medics assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, represented the entire Army National Guard at the annual Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark U.S. Army Best Medic Competition, held January 23 to 27.
Competing as Team 24 out of 31 teams, they narrowly lost 10th place to the 10th Mountain Division stationed at Fort Drum, New York, McCallum said.
This was the second year that medics from the 108th competed at the Best Medic event. In 2022, Staff Sgt. Dylan Delamarter and Sgt. Ethan Hart represented the Army Guard.
McCallum, the 108th’s full-time medical operations non-commissioned officer, enlisted in 2014. He served as an airborne infantryman in the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vincenza, Italy. In 2017 he joined the New York Army National Guard and became a medic.
Mulhern enlisted in 2012 and served as a medic in the 101st Airborne Division before joining the New York Army National Guard in 2016.
He currently works in construction after serving as the full-time medical readiness NCO for the FEMA Region II Homeland Response Force for a couple of years.
The four-day competition was mentally and physically demanding with only four hours of sleep each night, the two men said.
“It seemed like a continuous event,” McCallum said.
Mulhern said they would get a packing list each night and try to figure out what to expect as they didn’t know what was going to happen the next day.
But that was no guarantee. They would be told to pack something and then they would not use it at all, they said.
They didn’t know if they should prepare to move fast, or slow and easy, Mulhern said.
“We just kind of woke up each day, not knowing what to expect,” McCallum said.
On a ruck march carrying 75 pounds of gear, nobody knew how far they were going. After 16 miles, they had to handle simulated casualties from an attack.
“I work in the trades, and I handle 75-pound bags of concrete regularly. This was like carrying a bag of concrete for 16 miles, Mulhern said.
During one march there were six events, including a stress shoot where they engaged targets with M-4 carbines and M-17 pistols while moving.
Afterwards, they had to move a simulated casualty 1.8 miles in a stretcher and hoist the casualty onto a hovering helicopter.
They did the best at a water event, Mulhern and McCallum said.
They jumped into a pool from a high diving board in full field gear, carrying a rubber rifle. When they hit the water, they dropped their gear and swam 25 meters to the far side of the pool, retrieved a casualty and swam it back.
Then while Mulhern dove down into the pool to retrieve their gear, McCallum administered CPR at pool side. Then they jumped back into the water with their full rucksacks and swam back.
Most exciting was when they jumped from a hovering CH-47 Chinook helicopter into a lake in a move called a helocast, the two said. Of course, more medical tasks awaited when they reached the shore.
“It was a unique thing that I never had a chance to do,” Mulhern said.
During the closing ceremony, Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, the Surgeon General of the Army, praised all the participants for their “mental toughness” and “enthusiastic endurance.”
“That type of determination was heartwarming,” Dingle said.
The competition, he said, was the toughest and most demanding he’s seen in his 35 years in the Army. But, he emphasized, it is important that the U.S. Army have outstanding medical personnel.
“The worlds most powerful and lethal Army must have the world’s best medical instrument of power supporting it,” Dingle said.
McCallum and Mulhern said they were glad to get the chance to attend and learn a lot.
The Army National Guard will host the event in 2024, and they have been invited to an April planning meeting for that competition.
The best thing about competing, Mulhern said, was getting the chance to test himself.
On the first day of the event, one of the chaplain’s said “chose growth over comfort,” Mulhern said. He kept that in mind the entire time.
“If you chose the easy way in the Guard, you can get by,” he said.
“But when you step out of your comfort zone and do this difficult thing, it shows you how tough you are and how capable you are. We are all tough in the military and we are all capable. You just need to be as tough and as capable as you can,” Mulhern said.