Staff Sgt. Anna Coba was two miles from the end of her 12-mile ruck march when she started to slow down. Despite her burning legs and heaving lungs, she summoned a last surge of determination to pass the last tasks needed to earn her Expert Field Medical Badge.
For nearly 60 years, the Expert Field Medical Badge has served as a highly desirable special skill award that recognizes only a small percentage of Soldier medics every year who exhibit extreme competence and performance. Two Soldiers, Coba and Sgt. First Class Ethan Uselton, from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine embraced the opportunity to earn this special skill award known as the “portrait of excellence” by the Army Medical Corps.
“I had to keep going,” Coba said. “Success requires sacrifice.”
For two weeks, roughly 70 competitors from around the world, including the two USARIEM medical Soldiers, went through learning and training of 10 warrior skill lanes, 10 evacuation lanes, seven patient treatment lanes, performing day and night land navigation, a 12-mile road march and the EFMB Physical Fitness Assessment. In the third and last week, the Soldiers were tested on each of these exercises and assessments.
“The training was very challenging. We had to meet the physical fitness standards for the test, medical expertise, knowledge and combat skills,” Coba said. “Every day presented a new learning opportunity, and we had to be vigilant about the little things.”
Each morning in Fort Irwin, California, the Soldiers would experience a typical rhythm of waking up at 6:00 a.m., draw their weapons out at 8:00 a.m., train until 5:00 p.m. and turn in their weapons and then study some more until they went to sleep. As the only two Soldiers from USARIEM, Uselton and Coba were able to depend on each other for support, studying and keeping the other’s spirits high.
“It’s one of those things where having another Soldier there from your unit can make a difference whether you get a badge or not,” Uselton said. “You can’t really go in and make a solo effort. It’s an over the moon feeling to have another person there to bounce these study sessions off of. For this badge, we needed to make sure we had everything down pat.”
The three testing lanes: evacuation station, tactical combat casualty care lane and the warrior skills lane all required a more than 80% passing rate. The evacuation lane required performing tasks such as loading causalities onto a nonstandard vehicle and establishing a helicopter landing point and some of the TCCC required tasks involved treating a massive hemorrhage and preventing hypothermia. The warrior skills station had Soldiers move under direct fire and disassemble and reassemble a M4 carbine/M16 Rifle.
Meeting 100% of the “GO” criteria for all testable tasks, Uselton distinguished himself as the “Top Doc.” He was the only Soldier in the class to accomplish this feat.
“The Expert Field Medic Badge is the one badge for Army medicine that says you have proven your excellence. It is an outstanding achievement for Sgt. First Class Uselton and Staff Sgt. Coba to have earned the coveted badge,” said Master Sgt. Dominic Marconi, Senior Enlisted Leader at USARIEM.
At the end of the training, Coba and Uselton are among the less than 30% of the competing Soldiers to have earned the badge and have it proudly displayed on their uniform.
“I never imagined I was going to be able to pass,” Coba said. “I gave my best every day, hoping to complete and pass every test. I now walk away happy and proud of myself.”
Coba and Uselton’s experience is a story of resilience and determination that serves to inspire other Soldiers to strive for excellence and never give up.
USARIEM is a subordinate command of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command under the Army Futures Command. USARIEM is internationally recognized as the DOD's premier laboratory for Warfighter health and performance research and focuses on environmental medicine, physiology, physical and cognitive performance, and nutrition research. Located at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts, USARIEM's mission is to provide solutions to optimize Warfighter health and performance through biomedical research.