Seven Fatal Words
Ask any soldier and he’ll tell you that getting promoted places you on top of the world. It brings prestige, responsibility and a higher base pay. In some cases it causes a swollen head. During my active duty years (1967 – 1990) in the Army I seemed to step up rather quickly compared to others in my career field or in the army in general. Upon graduating from basic training I was automatically promoted to private second class. It didn’t make me a second class citizen, but meant I had risen above being just a private.
Upon graduating from my Motor Transport Operator advanced training I became a full-fledged, school trained army truck driver a 64 Bravo (64 Charlie & 88 Mike) and another automatic promotion to private first class, which came with the “mosquito wing” stripe for my uniform sleeve. I was so proud when I went to the tailor shop at Fort Ord, California to have my stripes sewed on.
I had to wait until the guy in front of me finished picking up his uniform with the very same stripe. WOW! Hey but he was quite a bit older than this 18 year old newbie to the army. He looked like he had already spent at least 18 years in the army. He was proud of his stripe and told me what he did to earn that stripe. While assigned as a first sergeant he took an opportunity to punch the battalion commander in the face and was busted down to the rank of a private first class. I made a mental note to myself not to ever do that.
I left Fort Ord for my first overseas assignment to Southeast Asia and ended up as a truck driver, a tractor-trailer driver hauling bombs, munitions and cargo in a transportation unit. In four months I was recognized for my duty by being promoted to a specialist fourth class, a bird on my sleeve and another pay raise.
While in Thailand I went before a battalion promotion board at a time when I hardly knew what it was. About a month later I was driving the company pass truck, a deuce and a half, taking guys on pass downtown and later picking them up before curfew. It was after 10 pm when I was called over to my platoon sergeant who then handed me a set of promotion orders to specialist five, a bird with an umbrella over him.
I was given specific instructions to be in the proper uniform at formation the next morning. That was going to be difficult because rank was sewed on to uniforms and sloppiness in sewing was not tolerated. I remembered we had a guy that came from Europe where they were using the army’s new pin on rank. He was a specialist five and I asked him for any extra pin ons he might have. After getting my uniform straight I went back to my platoon sergeant and asked if I was in the correct uniform?
When I departed Thailand I had a 2-year break-in-service where I joined an army reserve unit in my home town. As a specialist five I became the drivers licensing sergeant in a combat engineer unit. I didn’t stay long, before I decided to go active duty.
When I enlisted I had to lose a stripe, my umbrella. Once again I became a specialist fourth class with a bird on my sleeve. I was assigned to an infantry unit at Fort Lewis, Washington and immediately went on the first sergeants kitchen police duty roster, even though I was married, lived in base housing. I pulled KP under a specialist five cook who rode my back like a bucking horse. One day the first sergeant called me in and asked if I wanted to become an “acting jack” sergeant? It meant wearing the three stripes of a sergeant, but still getting paid as a specialist four. I said yes, because after all I had been a specialist five for 1 ½ years before my break in service. The army rates a sergeant higher than a specialist so I felt obligated to let the cook know I would no longer be on his KP detail. It felt great.
A short time later I went to the noncommissioned officers academy and then a unit promotion board before being promoted to sergeant. A position opened up in another infantry unit and I transferred over to become the assistant support platoon sergeant. While I was at my new unit I went to the basic noncommissioned officer educational school (B-NCOES) at the Holy Grail and home of army transportation – Fort Eustis in Virginia.
My next assignment was to Fort Davis in the Canal Zone in Panama. I became a squad leader and backup VIP driver. I had not been in country very long when I went before a promotion board on the same day and time that my family had flown to join me in Panama. I wasn’t very well prepared for the last minute board and told the board members why.
The army converted to centralized promotions and those who passed the promotion board now had to wait until their number was listed for promotion. It was over 1 year later before I was promoted to staff sergeant, 3 stripes up & 1 stripe under. By then I was working outside my career field as a military customs inspector, but the raise in pay helped.
After Panama I went to Fort Carson, Colorado to a transportation unit and became an assistant platoon sergeant in a line platoon. At this time I had been receiving outstanding evaluations, and proficiency pay. I was again working outside my career field as a career counselor, so the army decided that I was among the upper percentage of transporters in my career field, so I would make an excellent army recruiter.
I didn’t stay in recruiting and after 8 months I received orders for attendance of the advanced noncommissioned officers education school (ANCOES) at Fort Eustis, Virginia. As I was preparing to leave recruiting I was notified that I had made the promotion list for sergeant first class, but had to wait for my number to be listed. That negated the ANCOES class, and I departed to become an army service school instructor at the motor transport operator course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I was promoted to sergeant first class, 3 stripes up & 2 stripes under while working as the course development noncommissioned officer. I was then moved over to the position of a module chief until I received orders to Europe.
When I arrived in Germany I was a newly promoted sergeant first class with 11 years of active duty. This was where I began as a platoon sergeant, supervising 32 truck drivers in a line haul transportation unit. The 3 years was broken up into various assignments, platoon sergeant, liaison noncommissioned officer and night operations sergeant at the battalion headquarters.
I then went to Fort Carson, Colorado where I became the support platoon sergeant in an armor unit. It was during this time that I was called into the battalion conference room after work to hear for the first time these fatal words – “You have been considered but not selected” for master sergeant. If that doesn’t hit you in the pit of your stomach, nothing will.
It had been my goal, as well as that of my peers to make first sergeant, command sergeant major and command sergeant major of the army. To make that happen one had to have “troop time” as a squad leader or platoon sergeant, so my goal became simply to get promoted.
It became a yearly thing to be called into the conference room to hear the sergeant major say – “You have been considered but not selected” for master sergeant. Each time I asked why?
I had an opportunity to become the first sergeant of a headquarters company, but it was offered to me just a couple of months before my final assignment to Japan. I would have replaced someone who went to Korea.
I was never told what I needed to do to change the outcome and even sent a letter to the promotion board with additional documents for my official file asking for reconsideration. The answer was nothing you have submitted has changed anything. After 10 years of being disappointed I submitted my retirement papers. One last slap in the face was when I was required to attend the senior leadership development course a few months before I was to retire. I became the course first sergeant for my class because I was the senior sergeant first class. As I returned to Colorado formalize my retirement Operation Desert Shield had activated and I fully suspected that I would be recalled to active duty to fill a position that might free up someone else to deploy with their unit.
But alas the war was over almost before it began. – I am the Real Truckmaster!
MeWe.Com/The_Real_Truckmaster_Series – 2021