JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (Sept. 28, 2012) -- The smoke at the end of the tunnel was starting to clear as Spc. Michael Blewett pushed his weapon ahead of him and fought against his physical and mental exhaustion to crawl the final yards to the exit. The 33-year-old medical lab technician from Fort Riley, Kan., ignored the battle noise pounding his ears and quickly scanned the area.

Blewett spotted his objective 20 yards away next to a destroyed vehicle; two casualties in need of immediate attention. Closing the distance quickly, he moved to check on the first. Shrugging the aid bag off his shoulders, Blewett scrambled to apply tourniquets to both legs. He almost didn't bother checking for responsiveness, but did so for evaluation purposes and went through the motions with the simulation dummy.

Thirty-four medic Soldiers from Western Regional Medical Command put their skills to the test Sept. 17-20 during the Top Medic Competition, hosted by Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and Madigan Health Care System, or MHCS.

Over the course of 72 hours, medic teams endured physical and mental challenges including miles of road marching, confidence and obstacle courses, land navigation, weapons marksmanship, medic field craft, a physical fitness test and a written medical exam.

Each medic was competing for three prestigous titles. Individual competitors were vying for the "Top Medic" title or trying to earn a spot on the two-man "Top Medic Team" that will compete at the Army Medical Department level. Another competition recognized the best team representing their home station's medical treatment facility.

The events were designed to challenge the competitors based on battlefield situations, to see what these Soldiers are capable of as professional Army medics.

Not just any Army medic was eligible to compete in the event. Most participants had earned either the Expert Field Medical Badge, known as the EFMB, or the Combat Medic Badge, the CMB. The EFMB is awarded to Soldiers who successfully complete a set of qualification tests including written and performance exams. Soldiers who provided medical support to a unit engaged in active ground combat can earn the CMB.

"The EFMB is a grueling two-week competition; it has a low pass rate; it's very difficult to earn that," said Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Brady, MHCS. "The Combat Medic Badge is awarded to medics for performing their job under enemy fire in a combat situation."

Many of the Soldiers in the competition also had to endure a vetting process and compete at their home station medical treatment facilities.

The home station competition winners came from medical treatment facilities as far away as General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Bassett Army Community Hospital at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

The first two days of the competition tested the medics physically and mentally, and competitors endured a realistic culminating exercise on the third day. Wearing full battle gear and carrying a medical aid bag, each competitor moved through an obstacle course stopping at certain points to demonstrate their knowledge of tactical combat casualty care on simulation casualties. The situational training called for reactions to contact and moving casualties to safety before starting any treatment.

"Combat medics have to match the physical prowess of their infantry counterparts while still having the mental focus to treat wounded Soldiers. When naming the top combat medics, the evaluators are looking for the Soldiers to possess a variety of skills and attributes," said Sgt. 1st Class Gerald McAllister, Operations noncommissioned officer, MHCS.

"What we're looking for is a happy medium between strength, endurance, medical knowledge and overall medical field craft," McAllister said. "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."

At the end of the competition, Staff Sgt. Andrew Balha, Evans Army Community Hospital, Fort Carson, Colo.; and Staff Sgt. Alexander Folsom, Madigan Army Medical Center, JBLM, Wash., were chosen to continue training as a team in preparation to represent the division at the Army Medical Department level.

For Folsom, it was another chance to compete against the Army's best medics.

"I went last year when I won this, so I know what to expect," Folsom said. "I'll need to focus on more tactical stuff. That will be the hardest part, being at the level the combat arms and the rangers and the (special forces) guys that compete, because this is what they do for a living. It's hard because I have my regular job at the hospital, so I have to train up in my free time."

Folsom is a supervisor in the audiology section of MAMC.

"This opportunity, it's what I love to do. I really enjoy the competition, so any chance to do something like this I jump on it," Folsom said.

The winner of the individual "Top Medic" competition was Sgt. Bryan Ritchie, with Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson, Colo.

"In the past, I've taught the Tactical Combat Casualty Care to others in my unit, so I was confident on the field craft testing, the situational training exercise lanes," Ritchie said.
"The toughest thing, what I was dreading the most, was the ruck march."

"Everything else was fun," Ritchie said. "For me, it's a huge personal accomplishment. I didn't come out here trying to win the whole thing, I just came out to put forth my best effort and help out my team wherever I could, so definitely winning it is a big surprise to me."

The winners will go on to compete at the Army Medical Department's Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Best Medic Competition in November, at Camp Bullis, Texas.