SALT LAKE CITY –
With five years’ experience as a combat medic, Capt. Thomas Wheeler, a critical care nurse and commander of the 425th Medical Detachment in Bell, California, was prepared for the challenge to compete for the Expert Field Medical Badge in May at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. But what came next was definitely "leveling up.’"
Wheeler’s brigade commander, Col. Noel Pace, commander of the 176th Medical Brigade, nominated him for the FY22 Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) Military Competition (MILCOMP) with the principle that “junior officers are warriors too.”
The CIOR Military Pentathlon would include a two-week train-up period in the U.S. and Germany before culminating in a three-day day competition of pistol and rifle shooting, an obstacle course, utility swimming, orienteering, range estimation, map reading, and hand grenade throwing. The competition would be conducted in three-person teams from the U.S. Reserve Forces, NATO nations, and Partnership for Peace nations.
Wheeler grew up as a wrestler and then played collegiate soccer in Wichita, Kansas, cementing his individual and team competitive spirit. Living with the mantra of never quitting or giving up and motivation from his Soldiers, Wheeler could only move forward in a competition determined to “push everyone’s limits and resiliency.”
The three-week competition began Jul. 17 with a seven-day U.S. Armed Forces selection, assessment, and train-up at Camp Ethan Allen in Burlington, Vermont. Individual physical stamina and mental toughness were observed, and coaches began drafting three female and four male teams with a mix of Army Reserve and Air Force Reserve service members.
“It was a true challenge, mentally and physically,” said Wheeler. “Every minute is physically grueling; we are sore but morale is high.”
The coaching staff were former CIOR competitors, volunteers, and competitive shooting instructors. They focused on teaching competitors technique adaptation for any physical edge and “how to mentally prepare for CIOR, everything from visual preparations, building trust and confidence during practice, and handling the stress of competition,” explained Wheeler.
Wheeler’s military medical background and civilian experience as a Registered Nurse in the Interventional Radiology Department of the Denver Veterans Affairs Hospital proved a significant asset to the team as well. He taught a Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) class, further preparing competitors for the orienteering medical lane that required triage, treatment, and evacuation of three-to-five patients as a team.
“Orienteering combines land navigation, endurance, and mental toughness. Prior to CIOR training camp, I had never heard of orienteering. It was the hardest event in my opinion, but it was one of the events I enjoyed the most. Every event had its own challenges. The land obstacle course was physically demanding but also mentally taxing with different challenges at every obstacle,” said Wheeler.
Phase II followed as a seven-day international train-up at the Infantry School in Hammelburg, Germany. Competitors were assigned to their three-person teams, developed strategies, practiced techniques, and trained with the Germans soldiers. Wheeler paired with Capt. Justin Weeks from the 75th Innovation Command, Houston, and Cpl. Ethan Allen from the 7252nd Medical Support Unit, Helena, Montana.
“The three of us worked well together during the individual train-up and it was no shock that we were paired together. We were all highly skilled in shooting, had a strong medical background and well versed in land navigation. Each of us had certain skills in orienteering and believed this would give us an upper hand in competition,” said Wheeler.
By the time they arrived at the Hellenic Army Academy in Athens, Greece, the “team was ready for things to kick off – starting with opening ceremonies and then right into competition,” said Wheeler. “During each competition, every nation was cheering for each other. It didn’t matter what nation was up on the block, everyone was fired up and cheering for them. It was amazing to witness such camaraderie.”
“The CIOR MILCOMP was more than the competition for me. It was building strong relationships with our NATO Allies in a time of turmoil in Europe,” said Wheeler. “I am honored that I was able to serve as a USAR ambassador for the 807th Medical Command, 176th Medical Brigade, and the 425th Medical Detachment. I look forward to next year’s competition in Finland. Let the training begin!”
The U.S. Army Reserve Command (USARC) selected 15 Soldiers to compete in the FY22 CIOR MILCOMP to promote individual and team readiness while leveraging relations with all U.S. military reserve components and NATO partners.
Soldiers, corporal through sergeant first class, warrant officer 1 and chief warrant officer 2, and second lieutenant to captain, were eligible to compete at the CIOR MILCOMP. Soldiers were selected through their USARC Best Warrior Competition performance during the FY22 USARC Best Warrior Competition or participation in a previous CIOR MILCOMP. Soldiers must pass a standard (no alternate events) Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), meet height and weight requirements IAW Army Regulation (AR) 600-9, qualify on a live-fire range at marksman or higher with the M4-series Carbine (or M16-series rifle), and complete a minimum of a 12-mile foot march with a rucksack (or similar issued pack) containing the weight of at least 35 pounds (not including water weight) in under three hours.