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Home : News
NEWS | Feb. 7, 2023

New York Medics Represent Army Guard at Medic Competition

By Eric Durr, New York National Guard

FORT POLK, La. - Two New York National Guard Soldiers who competed in the Army Best Medic Competition in Louisiana said the worst moment was when they tried to land-navigate in cold, driving rain coming in sideways.

“I never struggle with land navigation,” said Sgt. Thomas Mulhern. “But we couldn’t even take our map out for fear of getting drenched.”

They thought the competition wouldn’t be too bad at Fort Polk, said Sgt. Klayton McCallum.

“I was thinking, the Gulf Coast in January. How bad can it be?” he recalled.

But, with the wind blowing that day, he fell into a knee-deep pool of water.

“We found ourselves laughing that time,” Mulhern said. “Every now and then, you have to step out of your body. We both found it funny, the conditions we were doing land nav’ in.”

Mulhern and McCallum, medics assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, represented the entire Army National Guard at the annual Command Sgt. Maj. Jack L. Clark U.S. Army Best Medic Competition Jan. 23-27.

Competing as Team 24 of 31 teams, they narrowly lost 10th place to the 10th Mountain Division stationed at Fort Drum, New York, McCallum said.

The four-day competition was mentally and physically demanding, with only four hours of sleep each night.

“It seemed like a continuous event,” McCallum said. “We just kind of woke up each day, not knowing what to expect.”

On a ruck march carrying 75 pounds of gear, competitors had no idea how far they were going. After 16 miles, they had to handle simulated casualties from an attack.

“I work in the trades, and I handle 75-pound bags of concrete regularly. This was like carrying a bag of concrete for 16 miles,“ Mulhern said.

During one march, there were six events, including a stress shoot where they engaged targets with M-4 carbines and M-17 pistols while moving.

They then carried a simulated casualty 1.8 miles in a stretcher before hoisting the victim to a hovering helicopter.

Their best event was in the water. They jumped into a pool from a high diving board in full field gear, carrying a rubber rifle. When they hit the water, they dropped their gear and swam 25 meters to the far side of the pool, retrieved a casualty and swam back.

Then, while Mulhern dove into the pool to retrieve their gear, McCallum administered CPR. Then they jumped back into the water with their full rucksacks and swam some more.

Most exciting was when they jumped from a hovering CH-47 Chinook helicopter into a lake in a move called a helocast, the two said. Of course, more medical tasks awaited when they reached the shore.

“It was a unique thing that I never had a chance to do,” Mulhern said.

During the closing ceremony, Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, the surgeon general of the Army, praised the participants and said the competition was the toughest he had seen in his 35 years in the Army. He said it was important that the Army have outstanding medical personnel.

“The world’s most powerful and lethal Army must have the world’s best medical instrument of power supporting it,” Dingle said.

Mulhern said the best thing about competing was getting the chance to test himself.

On the first day of the event, one of the chaplains said “choose growth over comfort,” Mulhern said. He kept that in mind the entire time.

“If you chose the easy way in the Guard, you can get by,” he said. “But when you step out of your comfort zone and do this difficult thing, it shows you how tough you are and how capable you are. We are all tough in the military and we are all capable. You just need to be as tough and as capable as you can.”