The Quest for Stripes: The Long and the Short of It

The short:
I passed the board and will be promoted January 1st.

The long:
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?


About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

20 responses to “The Quest for Stripes: The Long and the Short of It”

  1. Felyne says :

    WOOOHOOOO! Well done (I think). HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU!

  2. salmons says :

    Word. Mos def πŸ˜‰ And thanks!

  3. BWJones says :

    Congratulations Staff Sgt!

  4. Felyne says :

    Josh!!!! Did you see that offer from to get your blog made into a book with the software? If you signed up you got the first book free… Did you see that??

  5. Lessie says :

    It’s just looking like a winner. In the Army that means being “motivated,” which means being loud.

    Funny πŸ™‚ Congratulations.

  6. salmons says :

    Fel: I clicked on the link and downloaded the program, what else was I supposed to do?!?

    And to all with props, many thanks πŸ˜‰

  7. salmons says :

    Oh, ha ha! It’s free SHIPPING on ONE book. Nice try Blurb. I’m still checking out the program anyway.

    I’m going to start putting a book together just on my year over there. I’ll do a read through to expand some sections and flesh out others…maybe add a few sidebars throughout. The Blurb program actually gives you a lot of design freedom.

    It’ll take some time to make it a “book” rather than just a collection of blogs, but when I get it done, I’ll post a link for people who might want one.

  8. Felyne says :

    If you were one of the first 250 to register you got a free book… did you subscribe in time for that?

    “You acted fast enough to earn a coupon for one free copy of your blog in quality, bookified form.”

    I might know someone with a voucher they don’t want to use, if you didn’t get that…

  9. brogonzo says :

    Congrats! I’m still rocking out as an E4… I haven’t been crazy about the things I’ve seen happen to newly-promoted sergeants in this career field.

  10. salmons says :

    Yeah, I don’t blame you. I’m getting ready to be stop-lossed for another tour in Iraq in a few months. Nice, eh?

    More info to follow.

  11. salmons says :

    Fel: Nope, didn’t get that message. I guess I was after the first 250.

    But if you have a friend that’s not wanting to use his/hers, I’ll definitely put it to use!

  12. wilsonian says :

    Congrats! I guess all the time you spent waiting in lines finally paid off.

    As for the book… I think you’re going the wrong direction. You’re a fine writer. You should be shopping for an agent.

  13. salmons says :

    Wilsonian: You have any insight into that process, Wil? I am a total newb at the whole process, but am interested in learning how to publish a book–partly for personal reasons, but also because I’m curious.

    I’m not looking into this Blurb thing for mass-production. I see it as a design exercise (making the software system that limits me do more than it’s intended for) and a way to get it to close family and friends. I looked at a lot of the books in the Blurb gallery and shuddered, but got into the program itself and started tweaking things here and there.

  14. priya says :

    congratulations, Staff Sgt! About a potential book…I have a friend I can check with. She works with Mc-Graw Hill…they work on educational books, but she may know a resource if you’d like me to ask.

  15. Felyne says :

    Ahh. I will repetitvely bludgeon my friend with an overly heavy and blunt instrument until they succumb.

    Let me get it for you….

  16. salmons says :

    Priya: Sure, that would be great. I do eventually want to get into writing fiction, and if there’s enough interest, I’d hack through some of these entries to make them publishable.

    Fel: No rush πŸ˜‰ I’m still bogged down in school work.

  17. wilsonian says :

    Salmons, I don’t have any experience. But a blogger pal at So I Go Now published last year. He’s in Indiana, but used a publisher in Vancouver, BC. Another blogger buddy at Daily Life at the Homeless Shelter is just in the midst of the process. I think he’s self-publishing, using Lulu.

    Whichever route you go, put me down for a few copies. I’m completely serious about the quality of your writing.

  18. salmons says :

    Wil: Well thanks, brother! I do much appreciate it! I have a ways to go–always looking back and wanting to edit and move stuff around. Still, I’m glad other people can get some enjoyment out of the order of symbols I put on paper.

  19. wilsonian says :

    Sister, actually.
    And you’re welcome. πŸ™‚

  20. salmons says :

    Wil: Oh, whoops! Saw the “Wilson” and thought it was a first-name thing πŸ˜‰

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