Soldiers Vie for Top Honors, Pride at MRDC 'Best Medic' Event
At 4 a.m. on November 7, Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Anderson walked to the middle of the football field behind the CPT Jennifer J. Shafer Odom Fitness Center at Fort Detrick, checked the notes on his clipboard and then pointed at a group of nearby Soldiers, all standing in line.
"Thumbs up if you're ready," shouted Anderson, his voice carrying in the darkness. "Begin!"
And with that, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's annual Best Medic Competition was underway, with a routine staging of the Army Combat Fitness Test. This year, the event takes place from November 7 to November 10, and will feature – as always – a series of high-intensity tests designed to determine each participants' physical fitness and medical care capacity in the most severe and austere environments. The ACFT and its combination of push-ups, weight-lifting exercises and timed running events is the traditional starting point for the competition, which is ultimately intended to test and improve both Soldier and Unit readiness.
"I signed up for this competition to challenge myself, to see where I stand as compared to the rest of the Army," said Staff Sgt. Charles Garcia, who is based out of MRDC's Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, Texas. "Some of these events are going to be harder than others – it's going to take a little mental fortitude to get through some of them."
Increasing both mental and physical toughness is, indeed, one of the goals of the competition. Following the ACFT, all Soldiers participated in a staging of the Army's Combat Water Survival Test before departing for Fort Indiantown Gap in southeastern Pennsylvania for a three-day gauntlet of medical lanes, weapons qualification and land navigation, among other efforts.
For Staff Sgt. James Toney, from MRDC's Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts, the event is a chance to judge his own skills and professional growth against those in the rest of the command.
"I usually only volunteer for something that I'm good at," chuckled Toney, one of the nine participants in the event, following a particularly exhausting portion of the CWST. He volunteered for the event after a fellow Soldier at USARIEM, Spc. Juan Garcia, also agreed to participate. "But seriously," said Toney, "I've really been enjoying the competition so far. You can see it in everyone's eyes, how hard this is – how much they want to achieve."
While at FIG, the group will participate in a series of increasingly difficult medical scenarios designed to test their physical skills as well as their mental endurance. In addition to being graded on their medical care capacity, entrants will also participate in a series of weapons qualifications drills, as well as an obstacle course and a mock mass-casualty drill.
"Everyone is motivated, you can see it," said Staff Sgt. Harling Crespo-Cruz, a seven-year Army veteran who is also based out of ISR, during a short break at the firing range. "I volunteered for this because I wanted to see if I could do it, and while it's been so-far-so-good, it's also been rough out there."
The winner of the event will be announced during a ceremony on November 10 at the Fort Detrick Auditorium at 11:30 a.m. The winner will then compete against participants from across the larger Army in the 2023 CSM Jack L. Clark, Jr. U.S. Army Best Medic Competition, which is currently scheduled to be held at Fort Polk, Louisiana in January of next year.
"It's cool that we're competing, and we're trying to figure out who's the best," said Staff Sgt. Hai Nguyen, an Alabama native from MRDC's Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory. "It's been fun and so far I've been able to learn a lot from it – and I'm looking forward to sharing that knowledge with other people."