By Sgt. Liane Hatch | 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — It’s safe to say that the Soldiers of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, are used to the heat after spending the past eight months in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, with temperatures reaching above 120 degrees throughout the summer. With a predicted temperature of only 85 degrees at 6 a.m. Oct. 8, 2019, it sounded like perfect conditions to kick off the brigade’s inaugural “Iron Medic” competition.
The 10 teams of two Soldiers each, from across the brigade’s battalions and its medical company, expected a series of challenges, including weapons assembly, modified Army Combat Fitness Test, road march, obstacle course and some medical training lanes. Not easy certainly, but nothing unforeseen. What they didn’t expect was the unusual, stifling 90-percent humidity that surprised all of Camp Buehring that day.
Capt. Dennis Vinett, commander, Charlie Medical Company, 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd ABCT, initiated and planned the competition. He said though conditions pushed participants beyond what anyone had anticipated, the medics rose to the challenge.
“We were hoping to challenge the Soldiers physically, to test their mental acuity and expertise under stress,” he said. “We wanted to construct a physically taxing lane that would evaluate teams against those physical tasks and give them a chance to highlight their medical skills.”
Vinett originally intended to tie the competition in with a division-level “best medic” competition, in hopes the winners of “Iron Medic” would compete in higher echelons. When he learned that 4th Infantry Division would not be hosting a best medic competition, he carried on with planning and execution, to give the Soldiers every opportunity to test themselves and prepare for other possible challenges, such as the Expert Field Medical Badge.
The competitors liked the opportunity to differentiate themselves from their peers and to compete for a common objective, Vinett said.
“A lot of times for Soldiers, that healthy sense of competition is something that motivates them and it’s something we should strive to provide,” he added. “This type of event gives them an opportunity to really see where they fall.”
The competition, which took teams approximately four hours to complete, started with a weapons assembly and aid kit packing station — the teams would only be able to use whatever medical supplies they brought with them. From there, teams moved on to a track and field, where they completed a modified Army Combat Fitness Test: three-repetition maximum deadlift; standing power throw; maximum hand-release pushups in two minutes; the sprint, drag, carry; maximum leg tucks in two minutes; and a two-mile run split between the two team members — all while wearing the Army Combat Uniform.
Next, the teams ruck marched to Camp Buehring’s Air Assault Obstacle Course, where they completed most of the course before moving to a military operations in urban terrain training site. There, the teams evaluated a simulated casualty and prepared it for evacuation, moving the casualty down a flight of stairs while smoke and simulated fire added stress and distractions.
Finally, the teams dragged their casualty to the Medical Simulation Training Center, where graders assessed their ability to perform various combat lifesaving tasks in the chaos of dark and smoke.
“Our physical limits were pushed,” said Spc. Matthew Threadgill, a medic from 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd ABCT, who won the competition with his teammate Spc. Spencer Stillwell, of the same unit.
“Just the combination of physical events and the heat was rough,” he continued. “The humidity was smothering and being in the (duty uniform) during the ACFT didn’t do us any favors. On top of all that, we had to do trauma lanes, and at that point even basic motor function was challenging. That kind of push makes it hard to think about what to do next.”
Threadgill and Stillwell, who worked together for about a year and a half, knew from the start that they wanted to compete and they wanted to do it together.
“It was definitely challenging, but the biggest thing I took away from the competition was the sense of camaraderie,” said Stillwell. “When one of us was struggling, the other would be there to push them. I learned how powerful that is for accomplishing the mission.”
Pushes are exactly what Threadgill and Stillwell accredit their success to.
“If we had done just a few less pushups on the ACFT or come in a few seconds slower on the obstacle course, we might not have won,” Threadgill said. “The competition was really close and everyone worked really hard.”
Vinett agreed the physical fitness events distinguished the top-performing teams from the rest, but said seeing competitors perform the medical lanes was particularly encouraging.
“The teams all did a phenomenal job when it came to the medical skills lanes, which is great for the brigade because it means we have teams that are prepared to give high-quality support when our Soldiers need it,” Vinett said.
Vinett said that the unit plans to conduct another iteration of “Iron Medic” next year at Fort Carson.