Combat medics, dentists, laboratory technicians, X-ray technicians and other medical personnel from around the Army tested their true grit during a week-and-a-half-long competition to see who qualified for the Expert Field Medical Badge from May 10 to 20.

The grueling challenges these medical professionals endured were as intense as the Expert Infantry Badge with an Army-wide completion rate of about 19 percent.

“It’s very difficult,” said Maj. Matthew Mapes, the EFMB officer in charge and executive officer of the 61st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 1st Medical Brigade. “It’s called the Expert Field Medical Badge for a reason.”

Army medical personnel have to complete the same tasks as their infantry brethren but take it several steps further. Those tasks include disassemble, assemble and perform a functions check of their M-16 or M-4, a 12-mile road march, don a protective mask and perform radio communications.

What separates these soldiers are the medical tasks they are tested on such as performing tactical combat casualty care patient assessment, inserting a nasopharyngeal airway and casualty evacuation procedures.

“It was very challenging,” said Mapes who earned his EFMB after two tries. “You just have to focus on one day at a time, one task at a time.”

Applicants need to have a certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, passed the Army physical fitness test, and be qualified with their individually assigned weapon.

For some it’s a test of their skills and for others like, Staff Sgt. Kurt Smith, it’s a test of their pride.

“It validates me as a medic,” said Smith, a combat medic with 546th Medical Company, 61st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 1st Medical Brigade. “You’re an expert in your craft. When you see a medic with that badge, you know that they know what they’re doing.”

Preparations for the EFMB began months before testing. Hours were spent studying manuals, completing courses, exercising and conditioning the mind and body of the medics involved.

More than 170 started and only 17 finished. A badge with a caduceus and cross lay over a stretcher placed above the U.S. Army on their chest.

“It means a whole lot,” said Spc. Lawrence Echon, a dental technician with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, who earned the badge on his third attempt. “Only the best of the best earn this badge.”

As he returns to his unit, Echon said he feels accomplished. “I felt victory and I felt so relieved that I finally achieved my goal.”

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