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photo taken by my sister Julia about two months after Elliott and I got married
Can I just take a moment and say... I'm a proud wifey right now, folks. My husband just earned the Expert Field Medical Badge, one of the most prestigious and difficult-to-attain Army decorations. This badge competition has a 15% percent pass rate, or an 85% fail rate.
For these past two weeks I've been on pins and needles, waiting for exactly one phone call per day from my husband. He usually called from a rickety bunk bed, lying on his sleeping bag, and in the background I could hear the conversations and laughter of 100 men getting ready for bed around him. One night I heard the guy below him snoring.
"Do you hear that?"
"I hear something in the background that sounds like a loud motor, I think. What is that?"
"It's my bunk mate snoring."
To earn the badge, Elliott competed against 312 other soldiers (medics, doctors, nurses, veterinarians, techs, all medical staff in the Army in some capacity). Together they performed emergency and trauma medical care in the field while under simulated enemy fire, disassembled and reassembled weapons, found index cards pinned to trees in forests (ie. solo land navigation) during the day and at night, walked 12 miles in under 3 hours in full combat gear (Kevlar helmet and vest + 50 lb pack), and more you can read about here. They also had to take a written exam, and Elliott said for that test alone only 75 competitors out of 312 passed.
But Elliott passed it all. Despite two embarrassing days at the start of the competition when his luggage was lost in transit by Lufthansa (he walked around in a button-down and corduroys with a gun slung over his shoulder while everyone else walked around in uniforms with their guns, leading to much speculation that he was actually in the Delta Force), and despite almost continuous flu-like symptoms throughout the competition, and despite a couple of twisted ankles, he passed it all. On Friday he was awarded a handsome badge that will be displayed prominently on his uniform every day for the rest of his Army career.
Elliott wrote his family an email yesterday describing his final miles in the ruck march and the last hour of the 2-week-long competition. His words were so beautiful and captured the overwhelming exhaustion and relief he felt right at the end:
"After marching about eight miles in the freezing cold on Friday morning, the first light and color of sunrise started to appear over the road ahead, and I knew at that point that I could definitely make it. I wished I had had a camera because there would have been some beautiful shots of other competitors silhouetted against the bright pink and orange sky on the road ahead of me. The hardest part of the march were the hills, but without then I wouldn't have been able to enjoy such a striking view as the road dropped off into the sky ahead of me.
"After standing around in the cold, chatting it up with all the visiting commanders and other supporters who had come out for the final moments, we finally got lined up and organized for the closing ceremony. I wish some of you could have been there, because I feel like it would have given you more insight into my life as a soldier and the military in general. It felt like one of those moving moments from a military movie.
"The ceremony was held out in the bright German morning light, on a big parade ground with a full color guard and a bunch of tanks and other armored vehicles surrounding us (the unit hosting the whole competition was the 2nd Cavalry Regiment). It was presided over by the three star general who commands the whole Army in Europe, a tall skinny guy with white hair who looked exactly like you would imagine a general should. He gave a short speech telling about his first realization of the importance of medics and Army medical personnel after he was shot and wounded by shrapnel during the first Iraq war as a young officer. Then we listened to the U.S. and German national anthems, all saluting the flags waving in the breeze, and had our names called and silver badges pinned on by the general one by one."
Even though I never pictured myself as an Army wife (more about that story another time), I have learned to appreciate this life and--cliché as it sounds--have become ridiculously proud of my soldier. I love you, Captain Garber, Expert Field Medic and husband of mine!