Details matter: Eight Soldiers emerge victorious at EFMB

A candidate approaches the finish line of the 12-mile ruck march in under three hours while competing for the 2019 Fort Carson Expert Field Medical Badge April 19, 2019, Fort Carson, Colorado. The EFMB is the non-combat equivalent of the Combat Medical Badge and is awarded to medical personnel of the U.S. military who successfully complete a set of qualification tests. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Daphney Black)
April 24, 2019

“As a Soldier in Army medicine, whether a combat medic or medical service corps officer, we are all responsible for not only practicing but more importantly mastering the skills that can save our brothers and sisters in battle,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Johnson, Regional Health Command Commander.

On April 8, 2019, 128 Soldiers from all across the 4th Infantry Division accepted the challenge that comes with acquiring one of the Army’s most coveted skill badges.

The Expert Field Medical Badge.

Approved by the Department of the Army June 18, 1965, the EFMB has proven to be one of the hardest Army special badges to obtain.

The EFMB measures proficiency not only in medical tasks, but warrior, communications and evacuation tasks. It encompasses what a field medic is supposed to be proficient at in order to receive the title— expert.

“They have to be mentally and physically tough,” said Capt. William Vass, the officer in charge of Combat Testing Lane 1. “They have to actually stay focused on the tasks at hand, whether it is treating or evacuating a casualty. There is a time component for these tasks.”

Candidates must apply their knowledge and skill as well as handle complex medical tasks in a high stress scenarios.

Over the course of two weeks, the candidates were divided into three platoons to go through standardization and testing of 43 critical tasks including tactical combat casualty care, land navigation, an 80-question written test, and a12-mile ruck march.

Vass said the journey is a strenuous one, but the candidates powered through the physical and mental demands.

During the standardization phase, the candidates train for one week on the tasks they will be required to demonstrate mastery of.

“Once they hit the ground, they spend all these days out here on these lanes learning and all these nights in study halls rehearsing,” said Vass. “It takes a lot from the candidate perspective to prepare yourself to go through each of these lanes and succeed.”

Each candidate got a chance to get hands-on training on the lanes they were going to be tested on.

“We do a live run-through with one of our evaluators as the candidate,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Allen, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Combat Testing Lane 1. “The candidates get to see what right looks like then the opportunity to do hands-on with each individual task here.”

Then the candidates move on to the testing phase, where the most minor mistakes can result in a no-go.

“They are trying to both treat the casualty and make sure that they do all of these steps in order,” Vass said. “So that is one of the difficulties of this training, the medical lane in particular. We want them not to cause further harm to the casualty. We want them to treat the injuries that are present, but then for EFMB purposes, they also have to do them in specific order.”

In the end, only eight candidates of the original 128 who began the arduous journey to earn this coveted skill badge crossed the finish line and earned the privilege of wearing the badge in ceremony at the William “Bill” Reed Special Event Center on Fort Carson, Colorado, April 19, 2019.

“The EFMB test is the utmost challenge to the professional competence and physical endurance to the Soldier medic,” said Johnson. “It is the most sought after peace-time skill badge in the Army Medical Department.”

Johnson recognized the grit necessary to undergo such a task, whether one succeeded or not, just going through it takes guts.

“From my perspective, whether you are sitting in the bleachers having started this competition or you are still standing out on the floor, there’s no winners or losers here today,” Johnson said. “Those who met all of the standards are going to be awarded a badge, but everyone who completed and gave their all are better today than they were yesterday. And that’s really what it’s about. That’s how it is. That’s Soldiers answering their nation’s call.”

“The EFMB provides the opportunity to prove this skill mastery,” said Johnson. “And that’s what that small piece of cloth now pinned on their uniform will designate.”

“It is a great designator,” said Vass. “It shows that you have demonstrated the required tasks that you are willing to come out, and push yourself. When you get looked at across the board as part of the Army Medical Department, there is a small percentage of Soldiers that have it. So, when you wear it, it is a point of pride. It is something that Soldiers can look to and say that person has done a little of extra work to show that they are dedicated to excellence as a medical professional.”

“This is my third time coming out for the badge,” said Capt. Andrew Taylor, a candidate assigned to 10th Field Hospital, 627th Hospital Center. “I started this 20 years ago as a private. Badge complete.”