Army medic surprises siblings at Veterans Day assembly

Cali O’Hare photo A trio of teary-eyed siblings embraces at the Pinedale Elementary School (PES) Veterans Day ceremony after nearly a year apart as members of the VFW Post 4801, VFW Auxiliary and PES students look on. U.S. Army Spc. Leslie Mecham, center right, returned on leave just in time to surprise sister, Gracelyn Simkins, left, and brother, Memphis Simkins, right, at the Nov. 11 assembly. See page A3 for more photos from Veterans Day in Pinedale.

PINEDALE — Pinedale Elementary students Memphis and Gracelyn Simkins thought they just were participating in the school’s annual Veterans Day assembly on Nov. 11, when  a special guest of honor, sister Preslie Mecham, surprised them. Mecham is an Army combat medic specialist assigned to the 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. Spc. Mecham had been away for nearly a year when she arranged for the surprise to take place while on leave.

Memphis, seated in the audience at Pinedale Elementary School (PES), and Gracelyn, performing with the choir on stage, both raised their hands along with other schoolmates when asked about family members actively serving in the United States military. The siblings were then called up onto the stage, where they explained their older sister, Preslie, a graduate of the Sublette County school system, enlisted in the army in June 2020. As they described the distance separating them from their sister, Spc. Mecham looked on from backstage, waiting for the right moment to make her appearance.

VFW Post 4801 members and American Legionnaires in attendance for the Veterans Day assembly escorted Mecham from behind the curtain onto the stage, where her siblings quickly wrapped her in a tearful embrace. The PES gymnasium, filled with veterans, parents, teachers, faculty and students, erupted with applause.

Speaking to the crowd gathered before her, Spc. Mecham told the students, “You can be anything you want to be. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. You can do whatever you want to do with your life.”

Mecham knows that the firm resolve of a determined mind can beat some of the toughest odds. In August, she competed against more than 150 soldiers to earn the Army’s prestigious Expert Field Medical Badge (EFMB) at the Wilderness Readiness Complex in Fort Carson, Colo. She was one of only 33 to graduate. According to the U.S. Army’s website, the Expert Field Medical Badge test had a pass rate of 27 percent in Fiscal Year 2022.
To earn the EFMB is “one of the greatest achievements of Soldiers in an Army Medical Department” and is presented to Army Medical Department personnel “who demonstrate a high degree of professional skills, stamina and proficiency” and who will “save other Soldiers in need of medical attention in any situation.”

A soldier’s physical and mental fitness are tested throughout the competition. To even be considered, candidates must first complete a 12-mile road march in three hours or less and then immediately clear, disassemble, reassemble and perform a functions check on an M4 series carbine or M16 series rifle in under five minutes. They must pass a written test, navigate from one point to another at night — without the aid of electronic devices — and punch at least three of four points in less than three hours, demonstrate Tactical Combat Casualty Care and warrior skills and be an expert with their weapon. Candidates must also complete 15 burpees/rowers, a 400-meter run and drag a 160-pound SKED 50 meters in under five minutes and 30 seconds.

With her Expert Field Medical Badge pinned to her uniform, Spc. Mecham closed her impromptu Veterans Day speech with some words of encouragement for the Pinedale Elementary School students, saying, “Promise me now that you’ll do your best in everything you do, and I promise you that you’ll succeed.”

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