By Sgt. Blair Neelands, 1st Brigade Combat Team JournalistDecember 14, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Two medics from 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, finished in sixth place in the demanding 72-hour Army Best Medic Competition last month at Camp Bullis, Texas.
Cpl. Erick Morales and Spc. Jacob Foster made up one of the 31 teams of top medics from across the Army who participated in the inaugural Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Best Medic Competition. As one of the youngest and least experienced teams, Morales and Foster bested multiple Soldiers who were more senior in rank.
"We were one of the youngest groups out there," Morales said. "It felt good to see who we beat; it also felt good to see who beat us."
Most of the teams that placed ahead of the Summit medics represented Ranger battalions and special operations units. This encouraged Morales and Foster, especially after they realized the top six teams were separated by a minimal number of points.
"Once we saw the score sheets, we knew we were right up there with the top five," Morales said.
The competition started quickly with nonstop events testing the medics physically and mentally.
First was a physical fitness challenge, which consisted of pulling a tire weighing several hundred pounds, in addition to a three-mile run. Immediately following was a complex obstacle course, which was then followed by M-9 pistol and M-4 carbine stress shoots designed to simulate a combat situation with casualties.
Overall, the stress shoot was well liked by the competitors while the night land navigation course was considered to be the hardest event.
"The night land nav was the most difficult event throughout the entire competition," Foster said.
Beginning at 11 p.m., teams were dropped off by a Black Hawk helicopter in the middle of Camp Bullis' rough terrain. After determining their starting location, each team had to locate 12 points in less than six hours.
"It's not like a traditional land navigation course," Morales said. "We were flown by helicopter to a given point; from there we had to figure out what our starting location was. So the whole time, we kind of second-guessed ourselves, because if we messed up the starting location we would be messed up for the whole course."
With roughly three hours of sleep, teams continued the competition early the next morning with an urban assault lane. Armed with simulation rounds, candidates had to tactically move to treat casualties while simultaneously engaging the enemy.
"Every obstacle had at least two casualties, so a lot of it involved us dragging a patient to a location, returning fire, and then picking them up and taking them to a different location and returning fire again," Morales said of the stress shoots.
The day and night combat medic lanes tested the Soldiers' casualty care and evacuation abilities in close quarters as well as in the cover of darkness.
"We were dead on with our medical knowledge and we work in such unison; I think that's why we scored as high as we did," Morales said. "We knew when we arrived at each casualty what each of us was doing."
The final event for day two tested their skills in an ambulance while traveling to a medical facility.
The last day of testing began the following morning at 5 a.m. with a written exam to test the teams' tactical and technical proficiency. Immediately after the exam, the medics participated in a virtual convoy simulator that specifically tested their soldiering skills in a combat scenario.
Nearing the end of the competition, the teams competed in the eight-obstacle leadership reaction course that forced the Soldiers to think on their feet and work as a team.
Once the obstacle course was complete, the Soldiers only had to complete a timed 2.7-mile buddy run carrying a 180-pound casualty with a litter.
Shortly after the final event, teams waited in line to hear the results of the testing.
"We were standing in line, and a lieutenant colonel came down with the list and asked who wanted to know what place they got," Morales recalled.
When the Morales and Foster heard the places a few teams in line had received they became nervous about their own standings. Reluctantly, they agreed to hear the results.
"When he said we got sixth place, I felt like screaming," Morales said. "I tried to keep my composure, but on the inside I was so excited."
"I was very excited about getting sixth place," Foster said. "Especially because when we first got there and saw our competition, we were expecting a 10th place finish at best, so to get sixth was really cool."
Upon their return to Fort Drum, the two Summit medics were awarded Army Commendation Medals for their excellence while representing the brigade at the Best Medic Competition.
Both Morales and Foster have brought back a wealth of knowledge from the competition as well as from the other competitors to share with their fellow 1-87 Infantry medics. With this knowledge, they have begun to train even harder with the goal of returning for next year's competition to take home the title of the Army's Best Medic.