Although the sky was overcast and a fine mist sprinkled the air at Honor Field on Dec. 6, a crowd gathered to witness four Soldiers reach the culmination of a grueling two-week course designed to delineate the elite of combat field medics.
Three hours to complete a 12-mile road march may seem doable, but after two weeks sequestered in the field, eating rations, studying for and passing a 60-question exam, performing day and night land navigation tasks and completing warrior, communication, tactical combat casualty care and casualty evacuation lanes -- the physical, mental and emotional strain of this grueling course takes a toll on a Soldier.
The words "duty," "honor," "courage" and "service" exemplify the standards of the men and women who serve this nation. One elite skills award, the prestigious Expert Field Medical Badge, earned by roughly 15 percent of Army medical personnel, recognizes these standards through exceptional competence and outstanding performance in a combat field scenario.
At the beginning of the course, 131 Soldiers from across the nation signed up to challenge their personal stamina and expertise as combat field medics, but by the last leg of the test -- the road march -- the participant pool had been whittled down to five contestants. Of those five, only four earned the distinguished badge.
One hour after the road march ended, badge winners lined up to receive their coveted awards at the 115th CSH, 1st Medical Brigade, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Expert Medical Field Medical Badge award ceremony. Earning the EFMB were Cpt. Nicholas Bland, U.S. Army Dental Activity, Fort Stewart, Ga.; Pfc. Marcus McIntyre, 21st CSH, Fort Hood, Texas; Staff Sgt. Timothy Heater, Army National Guard Warrior Training Center, Fort Benning, Ga.; and 1st Lt. Matthew Vanderlugt, 61st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas. In addition, Vanderlugt also received the EFMB coin of excellence and the title of distinguished honor graduate for obtaining the highest score on the written test and finishing the road march first. Badges were delivered via Medevac in an Army ambulance.
Adopted by the Department of the Army in 1965, the EFMB was designed as a special skill award to recognize exceptional competence and outstanding performance by Soldier medics. Soldiers in the medical career management field, as well as medical personnel from other services, are authorized to compete for and be awarded this prestigious badge. The EFMB, the most sought after peacetime Army Medical Department award, is equivalent to the Expert Infantryman's Badge.
Col. Bruce McVeigh, 1st Med Bde commander, Fort Hood, Texas, was on hand to address the Soldiers and civilians attending the award ceremony. He highlighted the arduous demands of testing and the credibility associated with earning this highly esteemed medical badge. "A wounded Soldier's survival is directly linked to the speed and expertise of care given on and off the battlefield. What makes the difference is well-trained medics. These Soldiers who earned the EFMB today are a sampling of the very best our nation has to offer America's sons and daughters in need of care."
Col. Kevin J. Stevens, 115th CSH commander, commended the four Soldiers for their drive and determination throughout the course. "One of the lanes had over 200 steps to memorize and perform in order. Candidates get two chances for the written exam, but only one shot at the rest. These men that stand before us today will always be expert field medics," Stevens said.
The JRTC and Fort Polk 2013 Installation EFMB training and testing was hosted by the 115th CSH. Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital; 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division; 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade; JRTC Operations Group; 162nd Infantry Brigade and DENTAC provided support. "I'd like to thank all the Fort Polk units for showing true teamwork and camaraderie and working tirelessly to make this massive logistical endeavor a huge success," McVeigh said.
The 115th CSH trained for six weeks prior to the beginning of the two-week course. "It's a mighty task that takes the support of the entire post. And we've gotten that backing. From the initialization of setting up on Nov. 13 through the validation of our lanes on Nov. 20 and to where we received our first candidates on Nov. 26, Fort Polk has done a spectacular job supporting the 115th CSH. This combined effort has produced invaluable training for the entire post," said Maj. Daniel Woodlock, Executive Officer, 115th CSH, who also served as the exercise's test board chairman.
Woodlock earned his EFMB in 1999 while stationed in Korea. When asked what constitutes the most difficult part of the EFMP he replied, "It's the total package. Candidates have to possess endurance and stamina to get through the lanes. They must have the mental skills to maneuver through the individual tasks of those lanes, as well. The top stumbling block for the candidates at Fort Polk has been land navigation. It takes a lot of training, practice and skill. There's no formula to say what will make a good run for a Soldier."
After he successfully completed the three lanes the day before the road march, McIntyre explained his desire to earn the badge. "The EFMB carries prestige, but I also wanted to challenge myself and set myself above my peers." This was his second attempt at the award. "I learned from my mistakes from the first try. It's hard sleeping outside on a cot for two weeks with little sleep coupled with studying and preparing for the tasks."
The medical lane proved the most difficult for McIntyre. "I don't have as much experience as combat medics do because I'm dental. I had to come out here and learn everything from scratch. It was overwhelming. I stayed up all night before the lane testing and went through everything in my head over and over."
The lack of sleep didn't deter McIntyre from his task of successfully completing the medical lanes.
McIntyre's parents, retired Sgt. 1st Class Mike and Vickie McIntyre, made the trip to Fort Polk from South Carolina to support their son. They left home before they knew he had successfully worked through the testing lanes the day before the ceremony. They were confident he would complete the road march in ample time.
"He's an amazing man and Soldier. He does everything he sets his mind to," his father said.
After McIntyre crossed the finish line he said, "Having my parents here gave me extra motivation. I hit a physical wall at mile 9, but I pushed through. I'm glad it's over and I don't have to do it again."
Article by Kelli Neiman, Fort Polk Guardian