By Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 3, 2009 - Soldiers here are getting a trial run at the nerve-wracking experience of going before promotion boards. "Soldiers that take the initiative are exactly what we're looking for in our future leaders," said Army 1st Sgt. Gary. R. Dillard, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 17th Fires Brigade. "In cases where the candidates are very evenly matched, it normally comes down to what makes one stand out more than the other, and that's who gets promoted."
Dillard said the process begins long before the soldier first approaches a promotion board. It begins with mentorship, counseling and observation provided by the first-line supervisor from the moment the soldier signs the enlistment papers to the time when his or her leadership decides the time is right to make the quantum leap.
Once it's determined the soldier is ready, the noncommissioned officer recommends him or her for the promotion board.
"When a soldier comes to the board, it means he or she is seeking a rite of passage into a leadership role," explained Army 1st Sgt. Jonny L. Anthony, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment. "As first-line supervisors, it's our responsibility to ensure each and every soldier we recommend for leadership has been thoroughly trained and proven trustworthy."
Walking into a conference room to face a panel of judges composed of sergeants major, first sergeants or other senior NCOs can be an unsettling experience.
"Nervousness is normal for an individual attending any type of board," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph E. Santos of the 17th Fires Brigade. "How that soldier overcomes that nervousness under stress is a good sign of a leader. Handling adversity when faced with difficult decisions are what these boards are designed to test of each soldier."
Army Pfc. Samie G. Berhane, an advanced field artillery tactical data system operator with 17th Fires Brigade, was well aware of what promotion boards could be like, having talked to his NCO and other soldiers who'd faced the experience. With the encouragement of his supervisor, Berhane decided to prepare for his eventual appearance before the promotion board with a trial run at a mock board.
Conducted each Monday at the brigade's headquarters here, the mock boards provide soldiers a chance to familiarize themselves with the trials of promotion and Soldier of the Quarter and Soldier of the Year boards.
"All the studying that I'm doing is not only preparing me for the promotion board, but also building my knowledge base which I'll need for the responsibilities I will inherit as I cross the threshold into a leadership role," Berhane said. "The mock board gave me that extra edge of real-world experience one can't get with just books. Yes, I was nervous. Everyone was right about that, but I'm glad I went through it."
The mock board's intent is to mirror a promotion board's questions as well as its atmosphere. The questions vary from an initial life summary provided by the soldier to other questions touching on "what if" scenarios regarding leadership styles and choices.
"We have to drill soldiers that come to the board, test their mind and their ability to think on their feet," said Army 1st Sgt. Derek Q. Bazile of the 377th Field Artillery Regiment. "Every soldier is entitled to a competent leader. It's our responsibility to put these soldiers through hell and make sure they are able to withstand the heat." Santos agreed with Bazile and said his job as board president is to make sure every soldier has a fair and equitable experience during their trip to the board.
The path to success takes patience and drive to be one of the best, and knowledge that the goal to lead carries responsibilities beyond one's own desire for career advancement, said Army Sgt. Courtney G. Kargal, a 17th Fires Brigade battle captain.
"You have to put yourself mentally into the position that you're looking to achieve, prepare yourself to handle the responsibilities that come with that position and always conduct yourself in a professional manner," Kargal added.
(Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway serves in the 17th Fires Brigade public affairs office.)