Soldiers who earn the Expert Field Medical Badge say it brings recognition and career advancement potential, but the training and the perspective that comes with the effort might be even more valuable.
More than 300 candidates tried to earn the badge at Fort Bragg in May. Soldiers and a Sailor from across 12 military installations and the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences trained for several days before testing began May 13.
More than 225 of the Soldiers seeking the badge were from the XVIII Airborne Corps, including 126 from the 82nd Airborne Division.
Maj. Brian Coaker, deputy division surgeon for the 82nd Airborne Division, helped coordinate the testing for the badge.
“As someone who was a medic, when other Soldiers see it, they recognize it,” he said. “They recognize that it’s a symbol of excellence in the field.”
Coaker said the training Soldiers get during the testing helps with readiness.
“You’re going to walk away a better Soldier, even if you don’t graduate,” he said.
Sgt. Aiden Donoghue earned the badge in October 2016. He used decontamination skills he learned the following year when he helped treat victims of a chemical attack in Iraq.
Donoghue, a medic in 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div., served as a grader at the Fort Bragg testing.
The candidates were first given a written test. Then they demonstrated land navigation skills during the day and at night.
When the candidates finished the tasks about 4 a.m. Monday, they slept for about four hours. They then faced the first of three “combat testing lanes.”
One testing lane focused on “warrior tasks” that troops might face in battle. Another emphasized medical expertise, while the third stressed skills needed to evacuate wounded troops.
The testing ended with a 12-mile road march.
Donoghue and Sgt. Gerald Esposito, X-ray technician, 2nd Brig. Combat Team, 82nd Abn. Div., were showing the candidates how they needed to be able to disassemble, assemble and check an M9 pistol.
Esposito earned the Expert Field Medical Badge in December 2016. Like many Soldiers, he needed more than one attempt. He earned the badge in his third effort.
Esposito said the badge brings instant credibility.
“You’re just seen differently as a medic,” he said.
“You definitely stand out,” he said.
Esposito said the training helped him focus on potential medical issues. He said when he went to the Outer Banks recently, he carried a tourniquet because there had been reports of possible shark attacks.
Donoghue said he was surprised to earn the badge in his first try.
“It was limited sleep, studying and stressing out,” he said.
Esposito said Soldiers have to want to get the badge.
“You’ve got to be motivated,” he said.
Capt. James Uregen, 240th Forward Surgical Team, 44th Medical Brigade, said many Soldiers often have difficulty in the testing area focused on medical skills. Treating injuries during simulated combat challenges candidates mentally and physically, and for some people, emotionally, he said.
Sgt. Jeffrey Burke, a combat medic in the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, was making his first attempt at the badge. He said Soldiers who had sought the badge had advised him to focus on how the graders were teaching the skills.
“Don’t do it my way,” he said.
Coakley said young Soldiers often do better in the testing than seasoned medics because they haven’t formed habits for some tasks.
Uregen said the Soldiers have to be able to be coached on the skills.
“Your job on test day is to execute the tasks we trained you on,” he said.
Pfc. Timothy Tharp, who is a medic with the 91st Military Police Battalion at Fort Drum, New York, said he initially didn’t want to seek the badge.
“Then I thought about it,” he said. “If nothing else, it’ll be a learning experience.”