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4. Late To Formation: Combat Medic Training

Bravo Company

232 Medical Battalion

Fort Sam Houston, Texas

March 2009

Chapter XVIII

“Cocaine and Cadre” On my second time through Combat Medic School in late spring of 2009, the students were divided into two groups.

  1. The initial entry training students (IET students) who had only just graduated basic training.

  2. The prior service students who had graduated both basic training and had a military occupational specialty (MOS) school under their belt.

For my second time through I was a prior service student, even though I was a Private First Class. It was the first time that I had any earned status above the default setting. I had accomplished something already and was building off it. I wasn't the new guy, and that's a wonderful feeling.

The cadre Sergeant for the prior-service barracks was upfront with us when he said, “Listen, if you don't bring initial entry training girls up here to bang, I don't care what you do up here. Don't trash the place. Keep it clean. That's it.”

There was a good mix of NCO’s and junior enlisted in that barracks. Out of 100 prior service soldiers, we had one staff sergeant, three E-5’s, and the rest E4’s and below. An informal chain of command developed in the prior service barracks, where we brought our issues to the E5’s, whom had regular meetings with the E6. Our staff sergeant would have regular meetings with the Cadre NCO’s to give updates on our barracks, but we kept out problems in house and no one bothered us.

The 232 Battalion Sergeant Major sat us down and said to do him a favor and stay out of the IET club called, “The Hacienda” and in return he would make sure we had access to the NCO Club on post. One time the four of us went to visit the NCO Club, and there was a West Point Reunion going on. Two bird colonels were drinking in the NCO side of the bar, and they were several drinks into the night by the time we got there. Then it was me and my prior service Marine buddies doing shots with the colonels. One prior service Marine buddy of mine, Dan, would hop on my podcast years later to tell his story. Click on the link to listen: Pandemic Perspectives #2: Marine Corps Veteran

The whole first three years in my Army career was driven by my academic failure from Medic School. Failure is a wonderful driving mechanism in your life. If you manage to fail at something, you think, “Oh my gosh, I will never do that again. I need to do everything the exact opposite.” So, having failed the first time, I knew what not to do.

There was this Pakistani guy there named Khan. He was my good friend for the first couple weeks of round two. Then he got sick. He kept going to the hospital, and when he got released back to the barracks, we had several late nights where I would try to catch him up. Because I already knew if you fell behind, you sunk. One night, Khan and I were up studying in the latrine. The lights there were on 24/7, and we could do it without bothering anyone. So, about a half hour into a study session, we hear this voice come from the latrine stall say, “Hey, you guys know I’m watching porn in here, right?”

I take a beat and consider the situation. “So... you want us to go?”

Silence came from the stall, until he said, “Nah, I’m good.”

Several weeks later, it was a Saturday evening, and we had all just gotten back from the bar. I was sitting on the latrine floor for some reason, my back against the wall talking to a different prior service soldier. The soldier pulls out a bag of what looked like cocaine and asked me if I liked to party. I politely said no, thank you. After that, I went to one of the E5’s and said, “So, I’m not trying to make a huge deal about this, but one of the guys in our barracks offered me blow last night. This feels like a thing that would bring attention our way.” I didn’t hear anything about it after that, but the Cadre didn’t come crashing down on our heads, so I’m sure he went for substance abuse counseling since he stayed in the course with us.

Chapter XIX

The River Walk”

After I got off post privileges, I left for the Riverwalk. It was breathtaking. Restaurants and shops lined cobblestone walkways along the river, and when we turned a corner the Riverwalk invited us to go deeper into the city. It felt infinite. Alive, in a way I didn't know a city could be.

I found a little piano bar and walked in, ordering a beer and taking my seat. I see this sign next to a man playing the piano that says, “will play song for tips.” I put $5.00 in and I wrote down, “Piano Man, by Billy Joel”. I'm sure that was the 80th time he played piano man that day. But it was the first time I had been in a piano bar, where a piano man, sang the song “Piano Man”. it was great having a couple of beers and singing along to a song that I had only sung in the car with my parents as a kid.

A man who is a good friend of mine to this day is named Raj. At the time, Raj had five kids, although his dinner table has grown since 2009. Him being with us at San Antonio, Raj got a break from being a dad to a platoon of kids. So, one day, I found Raj walking along the river, having commenced a day of drinking.

Excited, Raj turned to me and say, “Let’s jump in the river!”

I made a counteroffer and said, “Let’s get you a cab!”

After I got him in a taxi, I handed the driver $20 and said, “Can you just make sure he gets near the Bravo Company 232 barracks?”

Later in our careers, we both ended up in El Paso. Raj, his wife and his five kids adopted me. I'd go to Whataburger, load up on dollar cheeseburgers, and chase Raj’s kids around the house, throwing cheeseburgers at them. The oldest would pick up a cheeseburger, and then his brothers would all tackle him for the prize of who got dibs. It was great to play that uncle role to Raj’s kids, at a time when I was feeling much alone. Raj made me a member of his family. To this day, I'm so grateful to that man and his wife for the kindness they showed me when I needed a place to go. A family to be around. They let me be around theirs. It was so generous and kind.

Years later, Raj would be kind enough to stop by my podcast and share his story. Click on the link to listen: Pandemic Perspectives #9: U.S. Army Veteran

Chapter XX


There were five of us in Bravo Company that were Medic School dropouts. All of us had the same fire, that same allergy to failure, that made us come back and try again. My first time through the course, the fourth test sunk me. My second time, I passed without a retake. There were other tests that I had to retake, and I’d see the other Medic School dropouts there at the retake room. We’d look at each other and say, “We’re not going to be back for a third time. We’re passing this course on the second go.” Three out of five of us passed the course on the second go. Some people weren’t meant to be medics. I wasn’t ready the first time.

The big scary test at the eight week mark was the National Registry For Emergency Medical Technicians Exam, or NREMT. It was a smart test that pulled from a bank of ten thousand questions to adapt to your responses. The goal wasn’t finding the correct response. All four choices were correct to some degree. It was finding the MOST correct response. If you had a smart response, it would just give you a harder question next time. No two tests were the same. You couldn’t game the algorithm. You just had to know your stuff. Before the exam, one of the instructors was addressing the platoon. He told us, “Soldier Medics, if ya’ll get A’s on every test, ya’ll probably gonna take the NREMT three times. But if ya’ll just barely hanging in there and I see your ugly faces in the retake room every week, you’re probably gonna pass the NREMT first time go.”

He was right. The A students were top of the class because they could memorize all of the standard scenarios and repeat them back on the weekly exams. But with the NREMT you had to think on your feet, where flexibility to adapt matters the most. The A students ended up retaking the NREMT two or three times. Some didn’t pass it.

On the day of the test, I had a low-grade fever and felt like garbage. But I had three tries to pass the NREMT, so I stumbled into the chair for about an hour, and then the test told me I was finished. I went back to the barracks and passed out till the fever broke. I woke up, checked the scores, and it said i passed with 75%. I did it. I was only halfway through the course by that point, so it wasn’t over yet. Failure was always just a bad retake away. But I passed the NREMT exam.

Chapter XXI

“FTX at Camp Bullis”