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Gaining Insight on What It Takes to Lead Troops

Spc. Maurice Galloway, 17th Fires Brigade

Facing a panel of judges comprised of sergeants major, first sergeants, or other senior-ranking NCOs can be an unsettling experience, perhaps somewhat similar to what one must feel like on a witness stand facing a seemingly hostile, prickly jury. Pfc Samie G. Berhene, HHB, 17th FB tries to keep his composure while taking rapid fire questions during a mock board.


Becoming a leader of Soldiers is no easy task. An individual must be fully vetted before they can even be considered to take on such a high level of responsibility. The lives of many men and women rest in the hands of each and every carefully chosen leader and it's up to the top enlisted personnel to select who will take the next step up to becoming a member of the corps of non-commissioned officers.

"Soldiers that take the initiative are exactly what we're looking for in our future leaders," said 1st Sgt. Gary. R. Dillard, Headquarters & 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 person's 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 NCO 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 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 comprised of sergeants major, first sergeants, or other senior-ranking NCOs can be an unsettling experience, perhaps somewhat similar to what one must feel like on a witness stand facing a seemingly hostile jury.

"Nervousness is normal for an individual attending any type of board," said Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph E. Santos, 17th FB. "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."

Pfc. Samie G. Berhane, advanced field artillery tactical data system operator, 17th FB, was well aware of what promotion boards could be like, having talked to his NCO and other Soldiers who'd faced the experience. A young man in a hurry, and 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 17th FB headquarters on COB Basra, the mock boards provide Soldiers a chance to familiarize themselves with the trials of promotion and Soldier of the quarter and 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 in to a leadership role," said Berhane. "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 mimic the 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 1st Sgt. Derek Q. Bazile, HHB, 1st Bn., 377th FAR and native of Dayton, Ohio. "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.

Passing the board is just the first step in earning the NCO stripes, however. The promotion is the second and the earned confidence and satisfaction that comes from successfully implementing your leadership skills is the next rung on the ladder to success. Seeing those results in the proud faces of those you lead, in their increased performance level and standard of bearing is the true culmination of your hard-earned efforts to finally call yourself a U.S. Army NCO.

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 Sgt. Courtney G. Kargal, 17th FB S-2 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," added Cocoa Beach, Fla., resident.

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