Holistic fitness and resilience is essential every day

by Capt. Diego Torres 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron

I recently achieved one of my lifelong career goals. As a flight nurse evaluator, I was afforded the rare opportunity to compete for the Army’s Expert Field Medical Badge. Medical personnel consider the EFMB one of the most difficult and prestigious skill badges a military medical technician can earn.

The competition encompassed 10 major graded areas including more than 40 common Soldier and medical tasks. All U.S. and NATO military personnel are eligible to compete for the EFMB, but only 15 percent of the candidates make it through the taxing curriculum. The Air Force’s four domains of spiritual, emotional, physical and social wellness were vital to successfully persevering through two of the longest weeks of my life.

Although I may not have realized it during those two weeks, both cadre and leadership highlighted that my domains were truly put to the test. After some reflection, I had to agree.

This competition drove me to balance all of my four domains as the trials put my body and mind to the test. To earn the badge, I had to complete rigorous written and performance qualification tasks. Some tasks included: weapons qualification, day and night land navigation, medical field assessments, vehicle extraction, weapon disassembly and assembly, movement under direct fire, transmitting of medical evacuation 9-line request and a 12 mile road march with a standard fighting load.

My social domain was tested the moment I arrived. I was one of only two Air Force medics in this competition, so all eyes were focused on us. We were outsiders being scrutinized to determine if we’d make the cut or how far we’d make it. Although the rank structure amongst candidates ranged from private first class to lieutenant colonel, it did not matter. We were all assigned a candidate number and considered equals. However, the awkward silence was chilling.

To break the ice, my social skills took charge, and I immediately introduced myself to the Army sergeant next to me. I turned on my charisma and capitalized on my prior Army enlisted days as an artillery specialist to fit in while taking care of the other Air Force medic. After that initial encounter, the connectedness and socialization were critical in accomplishing the challenges because we were all striving for excellence.

The three combat lane tasks definitely put my mental and spiritual domains to the test. Before the beginning of each lane, the candidates were put in a tent and individually called forward. A safety brief was given, and a lane evaluator was assigned to each candidate. The evaluator followed the candidate through the combat lane and graded each individual task. This was the most stressful time since the candidate only received two possible outcomes: a “go” which allows the candidate to continue, or a “no-go” that sends the candidate home. I had mentally prepared myself by dedicating the time to study unfamiliar territory and practicing the tasks weeks prior to the competition. Spiritually, I believe in never giving up and, as our Airman’s Creed cites, “I will not fail.”

Many of the EFMB physical tasks were extremely challenging. In order to qualify for the competition, the candidate has to pass the Army physical fitness test. Moreover, the competition culminated in a 12 mile ruck march that had to be completed in three hours. This was a final check on my physical and spiritual pillars. Each mile marker I passed was a tremendously great feeling. It meant I was getting closer to the finish line, and my physical preparation was paying off. However, around mile nine, my body started to feel stressed. At this point, my spiritual domain was in full effect. I knew I had a purpose here, and that was to successfully earn my EFMB. The Air Force core value of “excellence in all we do” and perseverance kept my legs moving and pushed me the last mile and a half.

After crossing the finish line, I was greeted by an evaluator who performed an equipment shakedown of the required items to verify they were still in my possession. Afterward, he looked at me and said, “congratulations sir, you may proceed to the graduation and get your badge.” I made the cut!

Earning such a prestigious badge was an experience I will never forget. It was a true test of my abilities as a medical officer and leader. It was an honor and privilege to challenge myself in this joint and multinational environment. The Air Force often affords us opportunities to excel and challenges to meet as in formal competitions such as the EFMB process or in daily tasks we perform to accomplish our mission. It is important to keep a healthy balance between the four domains of spiritual, emotional, physical and social wellness to help you succeed in any challenge that comes your way.