Forty-six Soldiers received the Expert Field Medical Badge at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey April 27, culminating the one-week competition organized by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command in collaboration with the Public Health Command and the Northern Regional Medical Command.
More than 230 candidates participated in Northeastern Regional EFMB competition, which is one of more than a dozen EFMB competitions organized worldwide each year. EFMB awardees must pass a comprehensive written exam and complete a series of training lanes where they are tested on combat care and other military survival skills. Competitors must also complete day and night land navigation and then, if they make it that far, a final 12-mile road march on the last day that must be completed within three hours. Typically, only about 15-20 percent of those who go out for the badge earn it each competition, making the EFMB one the most coveted honors in Army medicine.
However, it's not all about competition. The EFMB competition also provides an opportunity for Service Members of all branches to train together and develop competence and confidence with field and medical tasks.
“It’s not about a badge that you put on your chest; it's about treating Soldiers who are wounded on the battlefield,” said Maj. Gen. Brian C. Lein, commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, Maryland, and Deputy for Medical Systems to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition.
Preparing for the EFMB competition takes months, both for the competitors and for the 208 cadre who organized and supported the event. The USAMRMC's 6th Medical Logistics Management Center took the lead for the second year in a row at organizing the Northeastern Regional EFMB competition.
"We learned a lot of lessons from last year that we were able to use this year to make the process more efficient," said Capt. Walter Walsh, assigned to the 6th MLMC, referring to the coordination it takes to acquire, transport and set up all of the materiel for the tactical lanes, such as various up-armored vehicles, litters, radios and other medical gear typically in a field environment.
The tactical lanes are set up to be both physically and mentally challenging.
“You want medics to be on point when it comes to evaluating a casualty or treating someone wounded. There is no wiggle room. You need attention to detail to get it right to save someone’s life,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Richard Pina, noncommissioned officer in charge of EFMB Combat Training Lane 1, who is currently assigned to Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia. Piña earned his badge in 2010.
Maj. Clem Bermudes, officer in charge of the Land Navigation portion of the EFMB competition, said the program places many stressors on candidates, including the often cold and rainy weather this season can bring on the upper east coast. This can include nights with no moonlight or stars. Bermudes said, in some cases, more than half the team will receive a "no go" from land or night navigation.
For many of the candidates, such as Corporal Micah Alden-Danforth, a 28-year-old senior line medic assigned to the 371 Calvary 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, this year's EFMB competition is not the first attempt at the badge.
"This year is about redemption for me," said Alden-Danforth, who was one of the candidates to earn his badge this year. "Getting this badge is not only prestigious, but also a sign that you're good at your job."
Sgt. Lewis Williford, a lab technician assigned to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, earned his badge at last year's EFMB competition and served as an evaluator this year.
"Preparation is the key," said Williford. "Train-up programs really make the difference."
Train-up programs are coordinated at the local level, often by Soldiers that have already achieved the EFMB and now want to pass their skills on to the next generation. The WRAIR has a robust train-up program that began readying candidates four months prior to the competition with four hours of training twice each week.
"The concept is to 'see one, do one, and teach one,'” said Staff Sgt. Kelly McWhirter, assigned to the WRAIR. "If you get the badge and that is the last thing that you do with it, you have failed. You have to bring others along with you."
McWhirter and Capt. Matthew LoPresti, the officer in charge of EFMB Combat Training Lane 3, organized the WRAIR train-up program, of which this year they now have three new badge recipients, including Capt. Lindsey Nielsen, Capt. Sean Marcsisin and Sgt. Erik Bigham.
"I truly believe we have the best train-up program in the Army," said Nielson, who added, "and if I can do this with a 7-month-old baby at home, anyone can do it if they really set their mind to it."