All The Way, One Step at a Time: NY Army National Guard Medic Earns Expert Field Medical Badge

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Story by MSG Raymond Drumsta on 09/29/2016
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- On the heels of a major training exercise, New York Army National Guard Specialist Brady Douglass rose to the top of his field to earn the coveted Expert Field Medical Badge, or EFMB, here in early September.

Douglass was one of 29 medics, out of 239, who bested a written test, simulated combat training lanes, a 12-mile ruck march and other challenges to win the EFMB. Douglass belongs to the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry and resides in Queens, N.Y.

The EFMB qualification training and testing started on Aug. 20, and was capped with a graduation ceremony on Sept. 2.

Eleven members of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team participated in the Fort Drum EFMB event. Specialist Justin Doherty, a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 1st Battalion 182nd Infantry, which is now aligned with the 27th brigade, also earned the badge.

Less than a month before EFMB qualification testing, Douglass and about 3,000 other of his fellow New York Army National Guard troops were sweating through a massive warfighting exercise at the Joint Readiness Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

"This EFMB is in addition to our annual training for our Soldiers," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Edward Erbland, health care specialist and medical operations NCO with the New York Army National Guard's 27th Brigade Combat Team. "We just got back from JRTC, which is another training cycle, where they just got a lot of awesome medical training, so that plus annual training was a really in-depth train-up for them."

The EFMB candidates hailed from the 10th Mountain Division, three Army Reserve units, and National Guard units from New York, New Hampshire, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Only 12 percent of these candidates qualified for the EFMB and graduated. So far this year, the EFMB graduation rate is 19 percent Army wide.

Created in 1965, the EFMB recognizes exceptional competence and outstanding performance by field medical personnel. The EFMB testing measures the individual medical Soldier's physical fitness, mental toughness, and ability to perform to standards of excellence in a broad spectrum of critical medical and Soldier skills.

Along with passing a 60-question written examination and completing the march within three hours, EFMB candidates must correctly perform dozens of warrior and medical tasks, such as day and night land navigation, control bleeding with tourniquet and other aids, triage and evacuate casualties, administer intravenous fluids, treat head injuries and abdominal wounds, various weapons tasks, move under direct fire, react to indirect fire, and react to unexploded ordnance or improvised explosive devices.

At JRTC, he and other medics performed some of these medical tasks on "real live patients," Douglass said. Between Louisiana's heat and JRTC's high operations tempo, Soldiers were dropping "one after another," and sometimes simultaneously, he recalled.

But to some degree, JRTC's high operations tempo helped set his pace for success in the EFMB testing, he said.

"Taking care of patients at JRTC helped me in one sense," Douglass said. They're both difficult in their own way, but JRTC is physically demanding, while EFMB qualification minus the road march is mentally demanding, he explained.

During the first week of EFMB qualification, candidates take the written exam, and are introduced to the tasks they'll be tested on, the high standards they'll be held to and the combat training lanes, which simulate combat situations. The following week candidates are tested on the lanes, where they must perform medical tasks and warrior tasks at the same time, such as treating patients while under simulated indirect fire, Douglass explained.

He found the lanes to be the most difficult part of the EFMB testing, Douglass said. In order to succeed, he forced himself to "baby-step it all the way," he explained.

"The level of detail that was required, it was easy to mess up any part it," he said. "You can get so overwhelmed with everything you have to do, it really helps to take things one step at a time."

The technique must've worked, because on Sept. 2 after days of lanes testing and other challenges Douglass stepped over the finish line of the 12-mile ruck march, completing his final qualification event to earn his EFMB.

Completing the march and other testing "felt surreal," Douglass recalled. He was so focused on taking things one step at a time that "it took a while for it to sink in," he explained.

"I couldn't believe I was done, after all that," he said. "I was so tired, I was ready to collapse."

But the pace and detail of EFMB reflect his career as a medic, according to Douglass. Like other medical professionals, medics must continually study to keep pace with changes in medical care, he stressed.

"Things are always changing, especially in emergency medicine," he said. "You have to keep on top of it all the time."

Leaders in his unit have set the bar high, and expect them to study in between month unit training assemblies, Douglass said.

"We get drilled and quizzed every month by our platoon sergeant," he said.

In his civilian career, Douglass works as a bio-medical engineer Zwanger-Pesiri Radiology on Long Island. But for him, just being an Army medic is its own reward it gives him a chance to treat Soldiers and help them, he explained.

"I love being a medic," he said. "You can see the difference you're making."

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