The Quest for Stripes: The Long and the Short of It
I passed the board and will be promoted January 1st.
Preparing for a board is like betting on roulette. All of your perceived worth is put on the line for a number that might or might not come up.
The higher-ups hand you a letter with a large list of subjects not normally touched on in regular life: Army maintenance regulations, the symbols of Army family programs, the slogans of Army programs, the administrative form codes for soldiers being rated while on physical profile status…bits of info as abstract and out there as “red 32.”
Normally you have a few weeks to prepare, so you study and study your arse off, memorizing regulation numbers, the distance between patches and seams, the body fat requirements for troops, the muzzle velocity of the .50-caliber machine gun…on and on until chapters, paragraphs and weapon weights blur into a hopeless mass of random integers.
The day of the board arrives. You trim your uniform, cut off the loose strings (which are many on the ACU), adjust your velcro, steam or smooth out any wrinkles. PT goes by quickly as your mind is set on nothing but the board. Self doubt trickles in–what will they ask? Will they be in a good mood? How many people will go before you? Will you be able to eavesdrop and hear some questions before you go in? Do you remember the NCO Creed?
Then comes the convening time for the board and, eventually, your turn to go in. You knock, enter, and give the standard reporting procedure. The ball is dropped and starts its clink-clink-clink thing…black 8, red 12…then they start with the questions.
And again, like roulette, either you’re right or completely wrong.
That’s the rub with boards. There is just SO much they want you to be able to rattle off in a moment’s notice, that it’s hardly worth actually spending the 12 hours per day necessary to fully commit all of the information to memory. The odds are against you knowing what they’ll actually ask you. And so you will have spent days, weekends, and months of your life, just to look like a moron when they ask you the six aspects of Army life you didn’t spend extra time on.
Part of the game is confidence, superiors always say. They know you’re not going to know everything. They just want to see how you hold up to the barrage, to see if you sweat when all of your winnings are swept aside when black 2 comes up when you swore to the heavens the next hit would be black 24.
Still, it takes considerable effort to not look like a complete moron, and so you strike a balance between winging it verses the life-ending amount of time it would take to answer every question. It’s sort of like statistics–you just want an 80 percent certainty rate, or some such. In boards, it’s not even that. It’s just looking like a winner. In the Army that means being “motivated,” which means being loud.
So I shouted my picks and took my licks. I am officially retired from boards. This was my last one.
Come January 1st, I will be Staff Sergeant Salmons. Nifty, eh?