Also this week: With short-notice shakeup, Rangers become Army’s Best Medics
By MEGHAN PORTILLO
From dreaming up the competition’s challenges to acquiring the resources and executing the event, NCOs are responsible for the Army’s Best Medic Competition from start to finish.
The jobs of medics and others with medical professions are so crucial to the Army that those NCOs are often not leaned on for their expertise in other areas, explained Master Sgt. Michael Eldred, the NCO in charge of the Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark Jr. Best Medic Competition, which took place Oct. 24-27 at Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston and nearby Camp Bullis, Texas.
“We are often delegated to running the medical care of a section and we don’t get involved in the security, the planning process,” Eldred said. “But Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Ecker, command sergeant major of U.S. Army Medical Command, said it is all about presence. He made it clear he wants us – Army Medical Department Center and School NCOs and Army Medical Command NCOs – to be present at everything that happens out there. That gets us into the middle of that planning.
“We need these NCOs to start thinking about how to plan and learn how to train other people,” he said. “So the command sergeant major wanted that to be the emphasis for the Army Best Medic Competition. We don’t just dictate the style and everything that goes into this. I take each one of these NCOs and teach them, watch them grow from that information that I give them.”
Eldred is proud of what his NCOs have accomplished, and said the success of the Best Medic Competition is proof of their ability to plan, adapt and execute at every level.
“I’ve got an NCO in charge of the tactical operations center, an NCO in charge of supply and resourcing. I’ve got an NCO in charge of every aspect: each lane, each phase,” Eldred said. “We make this competition work as the NCO Corps.”
The competition is designed in a modular fashion, which allows the planners to switch things up and keep it fresh. Each of the six lanes is run by a major command or brigade, which assigns the NCOIC. Eldred works with all of them to make sure they understand the requirements they must meet, as well as the intent of the command sergeant major.
“Some of them jump at the opportunity to be creative, sometimes to the point that they get protective about it,” Eldred said. “They get upset if I need to come in and change this or that. And I don’t mind that. I would much rather have to calm somebody down than amp somebody up. It is easier to get somebody to do the right thing if they are really motivated. I’m a medic, so I’m no stranger to emotions. We learn to treat people in a healthy emotional way. I am used to dealing with emotions on that level, and I [use that experience to help me guide these NCOs.] I want to encourage them through their emotions to get the job done.”
Eldred encourages the NCOs planning the lanes to get creative. He tells them, “This is your moment to shine, so take it and run with it.”
That creativity can make things interesting for Sgt. 1st Class Steve Gaddy, the logistics and personnel operations NCOIC for the Best Medic Competition.
“They dream it, and I resource it, plan it and execute it. Sometimes I have to rein Master Sgt. Eldred in,” Gaddy said with a laugh. “As a long-term Ranger, he has some grand ideas. I tear them apart and figure out what we need to make them a reality.”
Last year, the NCOs planning the competition pulled off a full-blown paintball war in the force-on-force lane. The competitors had to fight their way through a mock village to get to a casualty. In a matter of about three weeks, Gaddy sourced paintballs, paintball guns, CO2, masks, eye protection and more.
This year, competitors faced a lane in which they were overrun by the enemy and had to escape and evade. Gaddy arranged for “hunter-killer teams” to lurk in the woods, looking for the competitors. If the competing team didn’t move covertly enough through the terrain and the hunter-killers got close enough to read the numbers displayed on their shoulders, that team lost points.
“The NCOs come up with great things, too. We give them an idea and let them run with it. We hold weekly meetings to make sure they stay on track. But as long as they hit the required tenets, they can make it how they want it,” Gaddy said. “They develop their plans and then tell me the resources and personnel they need. Nine times out of 10, I’ve already got it, but there have been some interesting ones that have come up – a jump car, one guy needed a tractor. I’ve had canoes requested, M1 Abrams tanks, Strykers. If I can get it for them, I will.”
Gaddy taps into the expertise and resources not only of U.S. Army Medical Command and the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School, but also of every other entity on or near Joint Base San Antonio – Fort Sam Houston, including Army North, Army South, the Air Force, the National Guard, the Reserves, a special forces unit based at Camp Bullis, and even other posts such as Fort Bliss, Texas. He said building those relationships has enabled them to make the competition a success.
“What makes this competition so interesting is the fact that I’m getting the best and the brightest Army medical NCOs coming up with lanes that are both applicable to being a combat medic and still challenging in that they are most likely outside of the competitors’ daily scope of practice,” Gaddy said.
Creating the lanes
Sgt. 1st Class Delmar Lockett, a pharmacy instructor at the Medical Educational Training Campus at Fort Sam Houston, jumped at the chance to create the warrior tasks and battle drills lane for this year’s competition. He said he was looking to take on more responsibility and was honored to have been a part of such a prestigious event.
“My goal is to capture the essence of what the Army Best Medic Competition is all about,” Lockett said. “I want things to run smoothly and for Command Sgt. Maj. Ecker to be able to walk down and say, ‘You know, this is exactly what I needed.’”
As NCOIC of the lane, Lockett did everything in his power to make the lane feel as real as possible.
Often, when Soldiers are asked to do warrior tasks and battle drills, they do them in a round-robin fashion, Eldred explained. In the Best Medic Competition, however, competitors faced a challenge within a combat scenario.
“Lockett had to employ personnel resources that influence the competitors’ decisions,” Eldred said. “So a tank moves up, competitors have to do a call for fire. They have to adjust off a target reference point. They will do the task, but they will do it within a realistic scenario.
“The competitors won’t even realize they are being tested on some of this stuff,” Eldred said. “When the grader says, ‘Hey, you’ve got a guy in a tunnel. He just hit a chlorine gas mine, and he is unconscious. Here is his mask. Here is your mask. Do what you need to do.’ Immediately – if they don’t put their own mask on first, they are wrong. If they do put their own mask on first but then jump down into the tunnel without the other mask, they are wrong because they will need to immediately put it in place before dragging him out of there. And while they are putting their masks on, they are being timed.”
Lockett said he was grateful for the learning experience and for the opportunity to work with NCOs such as Eldred, who gave helpful suggestions along the way while inspiring him to develop his own ideas.
“This is definitely the biggest project I have had the opportunity to oversee in my career so far,” Lockett said. “It is a proud moment to see it all come together. If you think about it, only about six people are in charge of lanes this year. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that in the Army?”