11 January 2013
The writing is on the wall; the Armor community is becoming less relevant in today’s Army. The Master Sergeant (E8) Promotion selection list came out yesterday and it is the smallest list I have ever seen. Less than one percent of the 800 eligible was selected to advance. For all eligible and considered Sergeant First Class’ (E7) this day is one of the most anticipated of the year. The Department of the Army puts out a time that they will post the list on their website, and when that time hits, the website is hit with so many requests that it usually locks up (adding to the anticipation). This year I had the advantage of having my S1 shop pull it off the Human Resources website and not the public one. Once the list dropped I hopped on Facebook to congratulate all that had made the list. It wasn’t until after I posted did I actually open the attachment… Only 8 out of over 800 considered were selected.
I almost deleted the Facebook post. Although I do applaud those few that made it, so many other exceptional E7’s were passed over. I have been in the shoes of the nearly 800 that hadn’t been selected, and as much as some may say that it doesn’t bother them, somewhere inside it does. I had made Sergeant First Class in just over 9 years which is considered by some as “fast tracking”, and figured that I would continue that pace when it came to making the grade of E8. I was wrong. My first year of eligibility I was a little bummed out when I wasn’t on the list. I poured over the promotion board after action reviews and realized that in order to get promoted I was going to need to serve in a “broadening assignment” and serve in a position that is reserved for a Master Sergeant. I accomplished this by becoming an Observer Controller. My second year of eligibility I was again passed over for promotion and again I poured over the board comments. Using the knowledge I gained from the AAR comments, I attended Battle Staff (graduating on the Commandants List) and served a full year in a Master Sergeants position. By the time my third look for promotion came, I KNEW I was on the list. I had done everything that the Army had asked me to do, and some. When the list came out and I wasn’t on it, I was devastated.
My time as an O/C was coming to an end and it was time for me to find a new assignment. After much discussion with friends, family, and most importantly my wife, we decided to move to Joint Base Lewis McChord. I called my branch manager and was able to be put on assignment. At first, my branch manager said that they had no slots for me, but a quick call to his boss (which happened to be one of my old bosses) and the next day I was on assignment. The only “catch” to the assignment was that I would have to be a Platoon Sergeant again. No complaint here! If you haven’t been able to tell by now, I believe that being a Platoon Sergeant is the greatest job in the Army. Although I had already been a Platoon Sergeant for over 3 ½ years (Army considers 2 years enough time) I was more than excited to do it again. While I was serving as an O/C and evaluating Platoon Sergeants for three years, I was able to grab a bunch of things that I could throw into my tool kit. I found myself on many occasions thinking “If I were only a Platoon Sergeant again, I would do that” after watching numerous platoons come through the training area. I was going to get that chance.
Moving from Germany was a mentally exhausting experience. In order to make the move a little easier, I took over 50 days of leave in order to get situated into our new home. Leave flew by, filled with catching up with family and friends, moving into the new home, and getting my daughter enrolled into school. I reported to Joint Base Lewis McChord the first week of August and ripped through in processing post in a few days. It was time to meet my new unit. I was assigned to 1-17 Infantry. Infantry…. My whole career was spent in an Armor unit, and now I was moving to the land of the leg. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it was a Stryker unit and that I was going to be a platoon sergeant in a Mobile Gun System, but having to work with Infantry was going to be a whole new experience.
I arrived to the Battalion headquarters and reported to the Command Sergeant Major’s office. As the Senior Enlisted Manager, he is the one that decides where Platoon Sergeants go. I walked to his office and knocked on the door. Sitting behind the desk was the stereotypical Command Sergeant Major. On the wall behind him was his tan beret from his Ranger days, scuba awards, and more coins than the US Mint. He glances up from his paperwork “What”? I am at the position of parade rest and tell him that I am his new 19K Tanker E7. He stares at me, sizes me up from head to toe, and replies “Yeah, I can see that”. I’m a big dude, always have been, and just coming from being an O/C and gaining the “O/C 20” I was a little chubby. “Sit down” he commands. All that is going through my head at this time is HOLY SHIT, what have I gotten into. I sit down and he again sizes me up from head to toe and asks “How the hell are you going to fit into the MGS? What are we going to do with you?” I almost got up and walked out… I have been in for almost 16 years by then and was a Senior Noncommissioned Officer; I deserved to be treated with a little bit more respect. I didn’t though… I clinched my jaw, took a deep breath, and replied “You are going to give me a platoon and I will turn them into the best platoon in the Brigade.” I think that reply saved my job.
He leaned back in his chair, still staring into my eyes, and then let out a big laugh. “Awww, I’m just f’n with you. Welcome to the Buffalo’s and if you bust tape (reference to the Army’s height and weight standards), I’m going to kick you out!” He gave me the standard Command Sergeant Major speech that covered discipline, fitness, and doing what’s right. He told me to report to Chosin Company and I was out the door. I made my way to the new company headquarters and reported to the First Sergeant. 1SG Wells looked up from behind his desk and gave me a look very similar to the one that I got from the Command Sergeant Major. Here we go again…
“You and your family all situated” he asked. I told him that I had taken 50 days of leave and that we were all good to go. I’m ready to start working right away. “Good, you leave for Yakima in two days for a 30 day field problem”. With that, I was the newest member to Chosin Company 1-17 Infantry. I met up with my platoon out in the field and got started right away. We were next in the chute to deploy to Afghanistan, although not officially yet, but we knew it was only a matter of time before we were called. Right away I knew this platoon had massive amounts of potential. The cohesion, motivation, and the overall knowledge of the NCO’s were superb. As much as I helped them with all the new knowledge I had gained from being a former Platoon Sergeant and my time as an O/C, they helped with whipping me into good physical condition. I loved that platoon. I saw the potential in that platoon that I had seen in my former Scout platoon, and that says a lot.
After our performance in Yakima, back in garrison, and then during preparation for our Mission Rehearsal Exercise at the National Training Center (NTC) in California, our Commander had decided to create a “Hybrid” platoon. He outfitted me with a squad of Infantry, MGS’s, a Fire Support Vehicle, and a Sniper Section. Just prior to our trip to NTC my Platoon Leader was selected to take over the Recon Platoon which meant that I would now step up and serve as the Platoon Leader. I was pumped. The Company Commander, Sean Nolan, had made it clear that getting a new Platoon Leader in prior to deployment was probably not going to happen. I took my platoon to NTC and we wrecked shop. We were the go to platoon and had been given a large area to secure. We did our job and exceeded expectations by not allowing the enemy to conduct any attacks in our sector. I pushed the platoon, pushed them hard, to the point of breaking.
I had developed a bond with that platoon and loved every one of them. This was my next “Scout” platoon but this time was filled with Tankers and Infantry. I was prepared and ready to lead them into combat. Then December 6, 2012 at approximately 0430 in the morning, it all changed. The selection list for Master Sergeant was being released. Katrin and I got up early that morning and went downstairs into the office. At 0430 the link appeared and we clicked on it. My name was on it… It is still bitter sweet to this day. Katrin let out a yell and I clapped my hands… I had made it. We celebrated for a few minutes but then I had to leave. I still had a job to do and I headed off to work. I arrived at the Company and walked into the HQ. 1SG Wells gave me a handshake and told me he knew I was going to make it. On the other hand, CPT Nolan my Company Commander was pissed. He shook my hand but was bummed out. He knew that the promotion meant that I was no longer going to be one of his Platoon Leaders.
Telling my platoon that I was leaving was tough. I like to think that they all enjoyed my leadership, but I am sure a few were glad to see me go. I loved, and still love that Platoon. I followed them as much as possible through their deployment. They have gone on to do great and wonderful things. Just like I knew they would. They are now in the process of heading home and I couldn’t be more proud of a group of Soldiers. I miss them dirty Tankers and Grunts!
And when I reported to my next unit after being selected to be a First Sergeant? I walked into my new Command Sergeant Major’s office and told him I was his new promotable Sergeant First Class. He looked up, eyeballed me from head to toe, and asked “You hear anything about Yakima?” I told him I had heard rumors that the unit was preparing to go. “Not a rumor” he replied “you leave in two days; tell your wife.” And with that, my days as a First Sergeant began.