It is a feat very few Airmen before him have attempted and even less have conquered. It involves high-stress situations with less than high-tech equipment and is known for having one of the Army’s highest attrition rate of any course.
It is the U.S. Army’s Expert Field Medic Badge competition.
Recently, Staff Sgt. Tad Ragsdale, 86th Medical Squadron medical technician, was the only Airman and one of 60 service members left of the 280 who started the competition.
“I was notified three weeks before the competition that I could go and I jumped at the opportunity,” he said. “I knew I would be at a disadvantage because I missed out on nine weeks of study hall the other guys were getting before the competition.”
In order to receive his badge, Ragsdale had to complete an Army physical fitness test, weapons qualification, three Combat Testing Lanes, finish a day and night land navigation course, pass a written test, and finish a 12-mile ruck march in under three hours.
“I passed my test early in the competition,” he said. “I was glad I didn’t have it hanging over my shoulder throughout the two weeks. Some of the Soldiers didn’t pass their test and had to retest toward the end.”
With the test out of his way, Ragsdale was able to focus on the three CTLs.
CTL 1 was made up of emergency medical treatment and CPR, CTL 2 was the chemical biological radiological and nuclear lane, and CTL 3 consisted of evacuating a casualty, a litter obstacle course and working with radio communications.
“CTL 1 was my first lane to compete in,” Ragsdale said. “I heard during the competition that CTL 1 is responsible for 60 percent of the failures.”
Ragsdale’s platoon reported to CTL 1 at 6:30 a.m. and the last member of the platoon did not complete the lane until 11:30 p.m. Each lane had anywhere from 11 to 17 different skill tasks to be completed. A skill task took a participant two to three hours to complete. It can have 20 to 60 steps, and if a person fails anyone of those steps they can fail the entire skill.
The second lane was CTL 3.
“(CTL 3) was the easiest to complete for everyone,” he said. “It was less verbalizing specifics and more doing.”
His last lane was CTL 2.
“CTL 2 was more of a hodgepodge of tasks,” he said. “It consisted of CBRN, breaking down weapons, decontaminating yourself and a buddy, and other warrior skills.”
Once the lanes were completed, Ragsdale was faced with the one of the toughest parts of the competition ― the night land navigation.
“They call it the black forest,” he said. “You are allowed to carry your flashlight with red, blue or green lamps and only use it for a short amount of time while not moving. We weren’t allowed to speak to anyone during the entire navigation.”
For Ragsdale, this task was one of the toughest. His map was on a one to 50,000 grid where he had to map out his points in sequence.
Land navigation took down 25 percent of Ragsdale’s platoon. Within 10 minutes, he was told he passed.
The final feat to accomplish was the 12-mile ruck march in three hours with a 40 pound ruck sack. Ragsdale completed it in two hours and 55 minutes.
“By the time I was done, my feet were bleeding,” he said. “It was brutal.”
Ragsdale had some help from Chief Master Sgt. Keith Pudlowski, 86th Medical Squadron, who met him at mile six and completed the ruck march with him.
“I heard some guys from LRMC were coming to cheer me on, but I definitely wasn’t expecting Chief to finish my last six miles with me,” Ragsdale said. “Had he not been there to keep me going, I might not have made it.”
After completing the competition, Ragsdale was swarmed with Soldiers congratulating him on his accomplishment. During the ceremony to present the badges, the Air Force song was played along with the Army song.
Ragsdale found out about the competition a few years ago, but due to mission requirements he was unable to go until this year.
“I was working in the ER a couple of years ago and I ran into a sergeant in the Army wearing the badge,” he said.
Ragsdale then went to his chief and worked to get in to the next competition. Though the numbers aren’t kept officially, Ragsdale was told he was one of 20 to 30 Airmen in the Air Force who have earned this coveted badge.
“I spoke with a chief at the Air Force Surgeon General’s office who completed the EFMB competition in 1987,” Ragsdale said. “He told me there weren’t many other Airmen who get to wear this badge on their blues.”