FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Almost 200 Soldiers, from privates to majors, attempted to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge at a rural Rocky Mountain training range in March. Evaluators there expected 30 candidates to pass. Six made it.
"If you have the EFMB, you're really at the top of your game," said Master Sgt. Daniel Traver, 10th Combat Support Hospital, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of EFMB testing at Fort Carson, March 9-13.
Army medics from across the country arrived at the Mountain Post to prove their exceptional competence and performance in the field.
Of the 187 Soldiers who started standardization week March 3, Traver expected 30 Soldiers to pass the rigorous EFMB requirements and testing procedures. His estimate cited the Armywide 18-percent pass rate observed in 2010, as reported by the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
But on the first day of testing, Fort Carson EFMB evaluators disqualified an entire training platoon, 41 Soldiers, for missing the minimum requirements in land navigation. Another 37 recorded too many errors in the three main testing lanes: basic warrior skills, tactical combat casualty care and field evacuation procedures.
"It's about attention to detail," said Traver, who earned the EFMB in 1994 after four separate attempts. "One step out of sequence and you're a no-go." Each evaluation lane had a tight no-go tolerance.
Soldiers from 10th CSH organized the EFMB testing area approximately 15 miles southwest of Fort Carson's garrison headquarters. The candidates were evaluated at 5,700 feet above sea level, surrounded by dust, wind and mountains - conditions comparable to Afghanistan.
More than half of the Mountain Post's EFMB candidates had participated in overseas contingency operations, said Traver. Increased combat deployments have delayed EFMB competitions in recent years, he said.
"We started to realize that only senior ranks had the badges," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Moody, 10th CSH. He had the black EFMB properly pinned above his left-breast pocket. "We wanted young Soldiers to earn it too - to carry on the legacy.
"The EFMB is a competition to see which medic is the best of the best," he said.
Moody supervised the lane emphasizing tactical combat casualty care. Grenade simulators shook the ground while colored smoke canisters concealed three concrete buildings, where role-playing Soldiers screamed for medical attention. Candidates scrambled to "save lives" while their evaluators scribbled on clipboards.
First, the medics returned fire at an enemy sniper and then treated a Soldier's "bullet wounds."
Inside the structures, each candidate discovered a head injury and broken arm scenario. The mock casualty, acting aggravated and confused, shouted "medic," "are they coming back'" and "are we going to die'"
Another Soldier moaned using a realistic moulage that resembled an open abdominal wound. A third sat mostly motionless while suggesting a sucking chest wound. Evaluators explained vital signs as requested.
"You're trying to keep everything in order and maintain focus while everyone is calling for you," said Staff Sgt. Jose Gonzalez, an Army reservist with 7215th Medical Support Unit from Aurora. "This is great training - I underestimated it. I have a whole new respect for the badge."
Six candidates remained for the final event, after 97 percent failed to meet EFMB standards. A 12-mile foot march would measure their physical stamina, overall training and mental attitude. They had to complete the hike within three hours while carrying field equipment and a fully-stocked rucksack.
1st Lt. Andrew DeStefano, 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, was the first candidate out of the foothills. He lifted his M4 service rifle to the alert, while shuffling over crimson dirt. A Soldier standing along the path encouraged the panting candidate to finish the final mile.
DeStefano dropped his rifle to a tactical carry and picked up his pace. He completed the course in two hours, 35 minutes and eight seconds, and then strolled into the applause of more than a hundred supporters inside the Special Events Center.
"I ran the first six miles, and then there was this hill, and then I walked," said DeStefano, while an Army nurse assessed his condition and an EFMB evaluator ensured he didn't leave anything behind. "My feet are great, I'm just thirsty," he said.
Elisabeth Urban, 2, shouted "that's my daddy" as her father, Sgt. Ryan Urban, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div., finished with 13 minutes to spare. Urban and one other candidate requested an intravenous supply of fluids, but nurses said nobody suffered from significant injuries or dehydration.
Urban shrugged off the foot march and said the 100-question written test imposed the most difficulty, especially the subjects concerning field sanitization and detainee operations.
The four other candidates also passed the foot march within the three-hour time limit: Capt. Michael Bradley, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div.; Capt. Lisa Paroz and Staff Sgt. Justin Jesus, Fort Carson Medical Department Activity; and Sgt. Sean Snibbe, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Inf. Div., Fort Riley, Kansas.
"Right now, while we're sitting here in the Special Events Center, a Soldier in Afghanistan is bleeding," said Maj. Gen. David A. Rubenstein, commander of the Army Medical Department Center and School. "What this (competition) is about are the Soldiers who will be treated a month from now - or a year from now."
Rubenstein pinned the special skill award on the graduates, after receiving them from Sgt. Sebastian Munevar, Warrior Transition Battalion. The decoration that combines a horizontally-placed litter, behind a caduceus with a medical cross, has a special meaning to the wounded warrior.
"My life was saved by an Army medic," said Munevar, referring to an incident in August 2009. While repelling enemy fire in Afghanistan, an improvised-explosive device detonated and shoved him head first into a wall. A Soldier wearing an EFMB kept him coherent while immediately treating him for traumatic brain injury.
"He saved a lot of lives," said Munevar, explaining that several waves of attacks followed. "It wasn't just me who was wounded. I don't know how he did it, but he did it, while the other infantrymen held the line.
"He was assertive. He let me know he'd take care of me and he did. He got me to safety."