Balha, Folsom win challenging, exhausting Best Medic Competition

Saturday, June 01, 2013

More than 60 Army medics faced a range of obstacles meant to test their best.

In teams of two from Army units across the globe, soldiers from medical fields stood against the clock and each other at the U.S. Army Best Medic Competition at Camp Bullis, Texas.

After 72 hours of sometimes grueling competition, Staff Sgt. Andrew Balha, Evans Army Community Hospital, Fort Carson, Colo., and Staff Sgt. Alexander Folsom, Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., surfaced as the winners.

Among the 32 teams were soldiers assigned to all manner of units – from major Army medical centers and small clinics, to infantry, airborne, ranger and Special Forces units, representing every Army division, every Medical Command region – including special operations and the National Guard.

"The combat medic is the spearhead of Army medical care – the first step in keeping wounded soldiers alive," Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army Surgeon General and commander of U.S. Army Medical Command, said.

Adding, "Our soldier-medics may be competitors today, but they will be heroes tomorrow."

"It’s hard to believe. I think it’s still sinking in that we won," Folsom, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the audiology clinic at Madigan, said.

"It’s really a validation of what I’ve done as a medic," he added.

Folsom, who deployed to northern Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment from 2007 to 2009, said the pace and need for endurance during the competition was challenging.

"The first day was physically exhausting," Folsom said. "A five-mile road march with everything you’d need for the day, then an obstacle course and stress firing, then no sleep – it’s all meant to break you down."

In addition to typical Army skills events, like a physical fitness test, an obstacle course, pistol and rifle firing, and urban assault actions, the competition featured combat medic-specific tasks, like mass casualty, day and night combat, and evacuation and extraction exercises.

Folsom’s battle buddy, Balha, was also surprised to have won.

Currently the noncommissioned officer in charge of labor and delivery at Evans, Balha has deployed with several units, including the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, to locations all across Afghanistan.

"I didn’t expect to win," Balha said.

Adding, "This year the physical aspect of the event was grueling, and they stepped up the game on the medical tasks as well. The easy part was the treatment of patients. The hard part was keeping your head on. I just expected to show up, work hard and do my best."

Clearly, Folsom’s and Balha’s best was good enough.

The two are stationed nearly 1,500 miles apart and had less than two weeks to train together before the competition began.

"We decided to rely on each other’s strengths," Balha said.

"That was our policy going in. When one of us was stronger in an area, he took the lead and the other followed. And another thing that played a huge part in being physically ready was using CrossFit training to prepare," he noted.

Balha said CrossFit gave him the physical and mental endurance to stay focused despite sleeping only around six of the 72 hours.