Staff Sergeant Sig

Of all of the unqualified NCOs with no real experience to speak of that Staff Sergeant Smallville knows, he's glad that it was me that has been promoted to staff sergeant this time around. I know this because he told me so. Several times. Usually followed by something to the effect of, "You are not and never will be my equal."

We all congratulate in different ways, of course.

My small group leader (read: instructor) at BNCOC Phase I was even more blunt: "You are too junior for the rank you hold." Of all of the sergeants in the room, I had the least time in service.

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself the senior NCO left in the office from our detachment, nominally in charge of a Sergeant and a Corporal--both with more time in grade than I have in service.

Time-in-grade requirement for a Specialist to become a Sergeant is only 6 months, with two years time-in-service. Since I already had a bachelor's degree when I enlisted, I was a "microwave Specialist" and my time-in-grade was almost the same as my time-in-service--not quite four years--when I was promoted to Sergeant last year. Time-in-grade for a Sergeant to be promoted to Staff Sergeant is only another six months--so it was not really that crazy to promote me again in July after I got the requisite school (Warrior Leadership Course) out of the way last Spring.

But just because you can doesn't mean you should. Five years is not that long to have the rank I hold. It's not long at all--when my BNCOC instructor told me that, I responded that I didn't disagree. But it gets worse than he knew.

In the regular Army, your time-in-service date starts the day you ship for Basic. In the Guard, it starts the day you sign the contract, because from that day forward you are in the Guard, a name filling a line number on your unit's table of organization and equipment. You might be untrained and worthless to them, but you fill a slot. I signed up April 29, but I didn't ship for basic until January 6 of the following year. Furthermore, I was in initial entry training--Basic, language school, and Advanced Individual Training--for 19 months and 8 days, which means that I wasn't an actual qualified, trained and useful soldier until August of 2005--right before we deployed.

In other words, while I have almost five and a half years of service on the books, I have right about three freaking years of actually being a trained, useful soldier. And I'm now a staff sergeant, nominally able to be a squad leader and even pinch hit for the platoon sergeant on occasion. But thanks to the weirdness that is our unit organization, combined with a long training path and a shortage of bodies, I have never even had a subordinate.

Does this scare you? It should. It scares me.

So what accounts for this insane, meteoric rise? Several factors.

First, I'm in a rare MOS in a rare language in the National Guard. As a Nasty Guardsmen, I only compete for promotion with other soldiers within the same state. And in the same job. AND in the same language. How many of us do you think there are in Washington state? I bet you guess high.

Second, I'm on full-time orders, which means two things. First, I have exposure to people who make decisions. They see me fairly frequently. They know I'm competent and that I do what I say I will do. People are more likely to help out someone they see every day vice someone they see once a month. I don't know how much of a factor this is, but I don't discount it. The second part is that since I'm already on orders, I don't have to convince my civilian employer to let me go play soldier for a few weeks every time I need to go to a class. Thus, I was able to go to Warrior Leadership Course last year when a slot opened up on pretty much no notice, and I was able to spend a month doing both phases of Basic NCO Course this summer, something that takes most soldiers years to accomplish in between all of the other required or semi-required training.

Third, everyone at Battalion likes my wife. I'm not sure how it works, but I'm pretty sure that it's a factor.

So while many sergeants who have been in the unit for years are still waiting to go to WLC so they can get promoted to E-6, I've already been to BNCOC and will be technically eligible for E-7 once I attain the time-in-grade requirement--all because I speak a language the Army isn't interested in (though that's changing--rapidly, this week), I don't have a civilian career, and my wife is cute.

On the one hand, nothing is preventing other soldiers from having a less important language, or getting on active duty orders, or marrying a cute wife. On the other hand, it seems powerfully unfair when this punk kid off the street with no regular Army time and hardly any Guard time is suddenly getting promoted ahead of you--or catching up to you after you've put years and years in.

Fair or not, it has evoked more attention than I might wish, and a lot of half-bitter jokes. Sergeants I looked up to when I deployed to Afghanistan are now staring holes at me, wondering when someone will get around to promoting them. My new staff sergeantly peers mouth semi-sincere congratulations while wondering aloud when they will finally get a BNCOC date.

And I try like hell to be the NCO that I'm supposed to be by this point in my career. Fortunately, time-in-grade for E-6 to E-7 is much much greater--as is the competition. And frankly, Staff Sergeant is as far as I ever really expected or hoped to go--a team leader when next we visit Afghanistan, perhaps, or something--as any higher than that and your professional work is drowned in paperwork and administration. If I wanted to be a manager, I would have let them talk me into a commission.

I'm not saying that I've been promoted beyond my ability. I have a disturbingly high opinion of myself, and it's actually shared (albeit to a more human extent) by several people above me in the NCO and command chains. And I am 30, for crying out loud--people who tell you that age doesn't give you anything useful are probably in their early 20s. At least, that's the last time I remember saying something like that. While I definitely am light on the leadership experience, I have had the great fortune to have had some very good examples and opportunities to see it done both right and wrong. Being allergic to pain and humiliation, I am actually pretty decent at learning from other people's mistakes.

What am I saying then? First, getting promoted to staff sergeant is feeling more like a verdict of guilty than a judgment of perceived value to the United States Army, although the money is nice. Second, clogged promotion chains can rapidly become a major morale and retention issue--in a time when we cannot afford to lose anyone from a rather select and expensive group of soldiers. Third, I have been given a great deal of responsibility, and I hope I don't muck it up too badly. In the IT world--from which I am a grateful refugee--a mistake can cost you money and maybe your job. In the Army, it can mean visiting the family of your soldier to explain why they aren't ever going to come home. Whatever shortcomings as an NCO I have, I dare not do less than my utmost to fix them.




I'm sure that you'll be a great SSgt. Congrats!

While it's true that I only really knew you when you were in your early twenties and didn't think age had any value, I can't imagine that your core being has changed all that much since then. Your integrity and inner strength will take you far.

Its not fair for you to feel

Its not fair for you to feel guilty about being promoted so quickly. I'm sure that the other people you speak of would have gladly accepted promotion had they been in your particular shoes. Its not your fault the armies rules are the way they are.

So live it up, hold your head high.


Not guilty, per se

I don't exactly feel guilty. I have, after all, gone to the schools and done the time, and I've been full time for almost all of those last three years. Arguably, this makes me better qualified than someone who perhaps has been in for longer, but only on a once-a-month status. It certainly doesn't hurt.

I am, however, very conscious of the unfairness to the process that some perceive. A SGT who was promoted from SPC a full year ahead of me doesn't have WLC yet. But he's been working on his Master's degree, while I haven't done anything edumacational since I fled CWU with a BA in 2000. It's all tradeoffs, and while that's apparent to me, I recognize that it won't look like that to some, and whether it's accurate or not, the perception is out there. This can be a morale killer.


Don't worry....

First of all, Congratulations on the promotion.

I too promoted quickly, Sgt @ 3 years, SSG at 5. Although I was Infantry, the same feelings are there.

You'll do fine, trust your leaders. They promoted you based on THEIR experiance with soldiers. They obviously see something they like. Also, Household-6 IS a major factor......

I do miss it all, but I take comfort in the fact that others such as yourself are taking over.

(former) SSG Wardle
C/2-162INF 41SIB(E)