The Quest for Stripes: Prologue
Getting promoted in the Army is very difficult–not because things are necessarily competitive, but because anything remotely beneficial to a soldier’s career or well being must be tenaciously fought for through gatekeepers and mountains of paperwork.
“Gatekeepers” are especially problematic. They are the persons in administrative positions who determine if your requests, forms and/or approvals are processed. An unfortunate sizable portion of these people are infamous for their self-serving, lazy attitudes. Griping at them doesn’t help, since they are the ones who you must ultimately work through. They know it, you know it. You take the sh*t they give you and smile politely. Picture having to work through the DMV for anything from requesting an earned day off to fixing a finance error and you get a better picture of what it’s like.
In September of 2004 I became a sergeant, after weeks and weeks of appointments, trips to this office or that, interfacing with civilian-run organizations and military sections. I had to update the listings of my records: my awards, certificates, PT scores, rifle qualifications, and college education. This required several trips to processing centers, multiple appointments spread over several floors of employees, offices and sections.
Of course certain items were mis-entered, which I found out after allowing the allotted time to pass while the requests for record updates were sent to Indianapolis and the 5,000 other fully-staffed government agencies that “process” these sorts of things. Correcting the errors meant more trips and more forms and more appointments.
All of this to prepare a “promotion packet” that is put together by the military administrative personnel of the unit. The packet also undergoes it’s own series of scrutinies and “corrections,” sending it to and from several offices before finally being blessed as pure and righteous enough to be presented to a promotion board.
A promotion board is a panel of several sergeants major or first sergeants who screen potential promotion applicants with a high-pressure interview involving strict military protocol and pressed, sparkling uniforms. Weeks of study are required to answer questions completely unrelated to a soldier’s everyday job.
The topics include questions about weapons capabilities, map reading, Army programs such as sexual assault policy or the weight-control program, first aid and uniforms. Not that this knowledge isn’t good to know, but I’ve never understood how knowing that the Army Family Action Plan’s symbol is the equilateral triangle will help me be a better journalist, especially when there are never any job-specific questions at these things.
If I’m trying to be promoted as a journalist, how about some questions about photography, or grammar, or pagination? You would think that would be a better indication of whether I’m ready to be promoted. But there I go, rear-seat driving.
Upon a successful board appearance, where the panel members can vote “yes” or “no” on whether they recommend the promotion, the final series of signatures and approvals are processed, the soldier waits two months for the 5,000 government agencies to work their magic, and, finally, the troop is promoted.
Well, after two years, it’s time for me to begin my quest again. I’ll be documenting what I’m sure will be a fun and memorable time.