FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Fifteen combat medics from across 10th Mountain Division (LI), including six from 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Polk, La., showed their skills Aug. 14-17 during the Best Medic Competition.
During the competition, medics endured "the epitome of physical and mental stress, (including) extensive road marching, combat swimming, obstacles course, land navigation, weapons marksmanship, medic field craft and an extremely challenging and realistic hands-on medical exam," according to Capt. Martin Stewart, Bridgewater-Vaccaro Medical Simulation Training Center officer in charge.
"The events challenge them based on situations they may find themselves in on the battlefield," he explained. "We want to see what they bring to the table as a professional Army medic -- how they shoot, move and communicate on the battlefield."
However, not just any Army medic was eligible to compete in the event. Participants must have earned either the Expert Field Medical Badge or the Combat Medic Badge, Stewart added.
"The EFMB is grueling two-week competition … (and) has about an eight-percent pass (rate); it's very difficult to (earn) that," he said. "The Combat Medic Badge is awarded to (medics) for performing their job under enemy fire in a combat situation."
Because earning either of the badges is a huge accomplishment, Soldiers in the competition were some of the best medics at Fort Drum, Stewart added.
The first three days of the competition tested the medics physically and mentally; however, the final day required the competitors to complete a realistic culminating exercise.
Combat medics have to match the physical prowess of their infantry counterparts while still having the mental wherewithal to treat wounded Soldiers, according to Stewart. When naming the top combat medics, Stewart and his team are looking for the Soldiers to possess a variety of skills and attributes.
"What we're looking for is a happy medium between strength, endurance, medical knowledge and overall medical field craft," Stewart noted. "There's much more than just treating patients on the battlefield for today's medics. They are part of the platoons (and) they do dismounted patrols, so they need to know how to use all the weapons systems, use the (communications) equipment.
"They're Soldiers just like those infantry Soldiers, (only) with the additional responsibility of having to perform medical tasks," he added.
The competition also reinforced the combat medics' "muscle memory," Stewart said.
"The culminating exercise involved multiple types of assets from Fort Drum, which will ensure a hyper-realistic combat environment," he said. "Our goal is to challenge them at a higher level than they will experience at the Army Best Medic Competition."
At the end of the competition Friday, six medics were chosen to continue training in preparation to represent the division at the Army Medical Department's Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Best Medic Competition, which will take place Oct. 26-28 at Camp Bullis, Texas.
The top three medics were Sgt. Robert Dickey, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, first place; Spc. Caleb Rhodes, 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, second place; and Spc. David Caraccio, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. In addition, Staff Sgt. Tito Galeana, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team; Sgt. Kenon Lamb, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team; and Sgt. Ryan Savoy, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, will continue training for a spot on the division's team.
"Once the candidates are selected, they will be put through a gauntlet of competition-specific training -- day and night land navigation, live-fire stress shooting with M-9s and M-4s, physical training twice a day and combat medic skills training in trauma stabilization and evacuation," Stewart said. He noted that last year, the division placed sixth out of 32 teams from across the Army.
The medics then have a little more than five weeks to prove their mettle and improve their skills when the team is announced in September. While the local competition was based on each medic's individual skills, strength and knowledge, only one two-man team will be sent to the Army Best Medic Competition.
"We test them to the utmost physically, and then we test them mentally while they're in that state of duress; that's where you really find out where your skill sets are at," he said. "(Muscle memory occurs) when you do a task over and over and over again, so you don't have to mentally go through it to make it happen -- it's a reaction.
"That's a big part of our training (here), because at (3 a.m.) when everything is going bad, that's what you depend on is your muscle memory," Stewart explained. "That's what we just put them through out here over the last 72 hours."
Dickey, who won first place, said the competition was psychologically and physically demanding. While he said it was nice to represent 4-31 Infantry, there were times during the three-day event when he found it hard to stay motivated.
"A lot of times you're getting physically smoked, and it's hard to maintain that tunnel vision of where you want to be at the end," he said. "In the end, it's a competition, so I pushed it 100 percent the whole time."
Although Rhodes admits that he struggled with some of the events, pushing himself helped him earn the second-place title.
"(In the competition), you don't know what's coming next. I love to train, and it's fun to have that surprise (element)," he said. "Some of the stuff was freaking me out, but it was fun. The hardest thing (for me) was the swim. I still struggled at some of the (events), but you just push through and enjoy it after."
Being a good Soldier requires not only maintaining job-specific skills, but also good physical readiness, Dickey explained.
"There are times (during deployments when) you're physically worn out, but at the same time, you still have to push through those stressors and maintain the knowledge and use (your) muscle memory," he said. "It all comes down to if you do it enough, no matter what stressors you're under, you can perform (your job)."
Rhodes agreed, adding that in combat, whether you're a medic or a cook, you're a Soldier just like everyone else.
During the next five weeks, the remaining six medics will be required to do physical training twice a day, meet with a nutritionist and train for the Army competition in Texas.