There are a few things for which a garrison Soldier, which we all are out here in this crazy land, should always have prepared:
1) The ability to pass a physical fitness test
2) Basic items needed for short-term field training
3) Their dress uniform
There are more, but these are absolute basics that every Soldier knows. Furthermore, when a Soldier knows that they are being sent to any board, be it a Soldier of the Month Board or a Promotion Board, there are certain implied tasks like, say, study.
The combination of these things did not happen today. Today I had to sit on a Soldier of the Month Board, asking questions of the Soldiers recommended through their leadership in order to determine which of them was the best among the competition.
The trouble was that among the junior enlisted Soldiers, it turned into more of a “Well, that was absolutely terrible, but at least your rank wasn’t taped onto your sleeves, so I guess that means you win.”
That’s right, folks, you heard it here first: the acceptable thing to do when you buy your rank too late for it to be properly sewn onto your uniform is apparently to take some masking tape, stick it to the back of the rank, and slap it onto your dress uniform sleeve. He said he also realized he couldn’t sew, or even attempt to sew, too late to ask a friend for help.
He then proceeded to freeze up and forget the answers to about half the questions he was asked. Mine, apparently, were particularly hard this board, because none of the candidates to include the one NCO could answer some of them. I thought they were easy ones, too, and some were straight from my previous boards, but I guess things like “What is the Army’s birthday?” can be a little much to ask. The NCO was closest on that one, at least.
So then, after him, came my Soldier. She had pinned on some things last minute after a great deal of whining about how no one told her six months ago when she arrived to the unit that she might need to fix her uniform to represent an active duty unit instead of a guard unit, but the two other NCOs I had also brought with me fixed her to at least something reasonable while Specialist (Taped) What’s-His-Name confessed to me that he couldn’t take a deep breath and relax because his pants were so tight it was hard to breathe. So at least her uniform was only slightly messed up, with pants too long and one or two ribbons askew.
But it was her demeanor that got me. First, she seemed bored. This coming from a Soldier who regularly informed anyone who would listen that she has been a Specialist for-EVER and therefore really really really really super really wants to go to the Promotion Board. By her seeming bored, I mean she slumped down in her seat, letting her hands fall between her legs and her head cock to the side, and answered every question (of the roughly 40 percent that she knew, anyway) quietly and with absolutely no enthusiasm. She tried to get smiley and cute with the first NCO on the board, another Staff Sergeant who might just be as mean as my reputation proclaims me to be, but as he got annoyed and asked things she didn’t know she was dejected upon realizing that I was next in the firing order to take shots at her. I gave her two easy ones, then apparently perplexed her with questions that were straight from the book about military justice and what the new Army uniform will be called The posters are hanging up all over every Military Clothing and Sales shop in the country, but then again I don’t know for certain that she ever once attempted to head over there herself to buy what she needed for her uniform, so she probably never saw it. I simply got to hear the grumbling later about how that question wasn’t in the study guide book. Silly me for thinking that a general question about the uniform new Soldiers already get in Basic Training might be something anyone who wants to be a leader should know, even if it isn’t in a book of the usual questions.
So the day dragged on like that, though I did get to velcro NCO rank onto one of my Soldiers again today and sit through some training that reminded me that the Battalion only has a loose idea of it’s own schedule for the next two months despite harping on me to have things set in stone at least six weeks prior to any training I want to conduct. We finally got back around 1900, and I was pre-informed that the Soldier who had, by default on account of her rank being sewn versus taped, won the board was very upset with me that I was making her stick around because she needed to be read a counseling or two.
The first counseling was because she was about to be in her primary zone for recommendation to a Promotion Board, so I wanted her to be aware of what I expected of her in order for me to answer “Yes” when the Commander calls to ask whether I think he should recommend her for a board in a given month. Right now, the answer is somewhere below “No” but above “Over my dead body,” but that is only because I know that sooner or later someone is going to accidentally pin rank on her and I still have a few things left to do before I keel over. So it was really just a list of things that she needed to make sure she either kept doing or, more likely, needed to start doing in order for her supervisors to gain some confidence in her to make her an NCO.
But why do it at 1900? Because she was scheduled to leave for temporary duty the following morning and I wanted to ensure that she knew what was expected of her before she left. I thought it was reasonable, and it fit in nicely with the reminder that she is now active duty, so she goes home when the work is done and not before, so sometimes that means staying late.
She was also counseled because the NCO responsible for her decided at the last minute to inform me that she asked, nay, TOLD him that she was going to drive her personal vehicle to the training, since we could not let her drive a government car out there with a turn-in for vehicles anticipated in the next few weeks. This late notification was despite me telling her weeks ago, upon notice that she would be attending the training, that she would have no vehicle out there because we could not spare a government vehicle without knowing when the turn-in might be. I have no problem with her taking her personal vehicle, though a little more notice might have meant we could give her the requisite counseling of “this is your own expense and your own responsibility” a little bit earlier and therefore cut down on the whining I had to hear about how late I was keeping them at work. Instead, I had to write it while the other NCO gave her the first counseling, and then he gave her the second one. Mostly about safety and winter driving and how everything was at her own risk and expense, but she better be smart about it.
As I watched him give her the counselings, I noticed something particularly disturbing: she still looked bored. At least it wasn’t just the board, the important step in figuring out if she is ready for promotions, that bored this girl. It appeared to be any time anyone opened their mouth that she would get slack-jawed and slump forward, clearly tuning out whatever was said so she could hear the wind whistling through her head.
I have a bad feeling about all of this. One concern is that someone might trip and fall on the promotion recommendations while I am still in this unit, therefore requiring me to feign support for her to lead others. The other bad feeling is not that she might fail to successfully get to this training exercise in the winter in a little American coupe that is not designed for German weather, but it is more that she might successfully return to me again. I have offered to trade her for various objects, but no takers as of yet. Her counseling packet grows thick, but she is so bored I don’t think she even cares to notice.