The Quest for Stripes: Paradise Regained
Luckily the personnel service battalion (PSB) was just a few blocks over—easily traversed in the shiny 2005 Hundai I’m sporting nowadays. I slowly eked around the normal overfull parking lot across from the PSB, trying my damnedest not to get side swiped by the overzealous Fort Hood drivers. Most cars have panels and headlights busted or dented—signs that everyone eventually hits someone. I still to try to avoid accidents, although I know the inevitable will eventually come.
By the time I hit the front doors, it was 1546, just a few minutes shy of the normal “We’re not taking any additional customers” routine. There, of course was no one at the info desk at the front, so I had to make my way down the hall for a clip, poking my head in each door to see if there was any signage present that could speak to the purpose of those particular clusters of desks.
After three rooms, I found a stoic specialist, staring through entering customers to the clock on the far side of the doorway.
“Yes can I help you?” she exhaled, weakly. It was a bit like the final breath from an ailing terminal case. The inflection was that of disappointment and loss–almost tragic. Dead to life–worn out, hardly breathing…all at 19. A shame.
“Yes, I’m here to get my orders for staff sergeant,” I said. The first statement is always a waste. If you start to tell your story, the desk jockey tunes you out after the first 13 syllables. If you succinctly spit out your actual purpose, the clerk assumes you’re an idiot and tries to correct your obviously wrong assumption for being there.
“Sign in and put down ‘update ERB,’” she replied. People update their ERBs (enlisted record brief) when they need to list new awards, or when they find mistakes in their assignment history or some such. It’s a standing joke that ERBs are chock full of mistakes—we think admin soldiers are required to edit in mistakes for job security. Sort of like how that IT guy just never can get the email fully working, all while collecting a hefty check, sporting sneakers and sweats.
I, however, knew I wasn’t here to update my ERB.
“Shouldn’t I see someone in ‘Promotions?’” I asked, motioning over to the sign at the far end of the room.
“No, put ERB,” she said, already in that lean to the left that says, ‘Move! I’m trying to help the person behind you.’
So I did and put my name down. There were only four or five other soldiers in the few rows of seats arrayed before a 13-inch TV broadcasting Judge Mathis. Party A claims Party B burned a child with a curling iron. Party B says the child picked it up herself. Back and forth. The other waiting soldiers were busy looking at their paperwork or the clock. The room had the tense frustration of a car-shop waiting area.
“Sergeant Salmons?” asked a vibrant sergeant, eyes open and alert. Not that he was overly so, but in the hum-drum, quiet vacuum of a thousand unattended insignificant yet career-stopping clerical errors, his outward confidence was downright inspiring.
“Yes. I’m here to get orders for staff sergeant, I have my extension contract.”
“Ohhh,” he paused and looked at my paperwork. “You’ll have to see someone in promotions. Umm, come this way.” I looked back to the specialist at the desk, who was still boring a hole in that clock just outside.
Thank God he didn’t make me sign back in and start over again. The time was 1555, probably past the “Come back tomorrow” envelope. But, I was in this to the bitter end.
“Sergeant?” my escort asked one of two cackling women in the corner. “This NCO says he needs orders.”
“Orders?!” the matriarch barked. She was an E7, probably the section sergeant, rotund and not in Iraq. That said volumes. “Why you need orders?”
“I made cutoff for February and extended to meet the remaining service requirement,” I replied. My time with the issue had taught me a bit about the process. I was completely and fully within the regulations.
“How long you extend for?” she asked, narrowing her eyes, her mind churning. Usually, this was the part when they found a way to defer the work of helping.
“I extended for one month, which will give me the 12 months needed.” My patience was beginning to buckle, and as I said it, I realized my choice of words might set off a defensive response.
“No, see? You need 13 months. You should have extended for two months. Who told you you need 12 months?” There it was, covering fire, allowing her to withdraw from the engagement.
“My retention NCO worked it. He did the math and had me extend for the month,” I replied, playing the retention NCO card (i.e. someone who does this sort of thing a lot).
“I bet he did!” she began to laugh with her friend. “I bet he did do the math! Ha ha ha ha ha!”
“Look, sar’nt, where’s your promotion packet?” the second sergeant in the corner asked.
I had no idea. After I submitted my initial paperwork, the packet entered ‘the Army system.’ How would I know where the damn thing was? “Isn’t it here with you?” I asked.
“If it isn’t in that box right down there, then we don’t have it,” she said, curtly. “Hey, check that box, see if sergeant…”
“…If Sergeant Sal-mons is in there. If you not in there, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“He’s in there,” said the soldier who was asked to search through the pile. God bless that woman!
“He’s there?” the matriarch said, disbelieving.
“Yes, sergeant, he’s on the cover letter.”
That sent the E7 and her friend flipping through piles of paperwork. “Oh there he is!” the friend said after a few pages. “When did you make cutoff?”
“February 1st,” I said.
“Well, tell you what sar’nt,” the E7 said. “I’ll work the math again and look at it, but you really should have extended for two months. If you qualify, you’ll get your orders. But if you’re even one day short, you need to extend for another month.”
With that, I left for home a few years older.
It took two days, actually, but returning to my desk through the day Thursday, I found a set of orders cut for SSG Joseph Salmon. I assumed it was really for SSG Joshua Salmons (me), since ‘Joseph Salmon’ had my social, the sneaky bastard.
Finally and almost, your author has been promoted. All I have to do is go back to the personnel service battalion and convince them to change my name. THEN it will be official. I also have to carefully watch my pay, to see if they bothered to issue the orders through the proper channels.
And there you have it, folks, what it takes to get promoted in the Army. The path to E7 is wrought with even more politicking and paperwork, so no thanks. I’ll stay put.
The Quest For Stripes:
Part 1 – Prologue
Part 2 – Starting Over from the Last Place We Started Over
Part 3 – Catching Up
Part 4 – The Long and the Short of It
Part 5 – The Rest of the Story
Part 6 – The Return
Part 7 – Paradise Regained