Age-old rite of passage makes some of Army's newest sergeants proud to wear their stripes
November 21, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- For some Soldiers the achievement of sergeant rank comes quickly and easily. For Sgt. Nathaniel Floyd Jr., it was more of a journey.
A Soldier in the Army's communications and information management career field, Floyd had the short end of the stick in an organization where points earned toward promotion to sergeant depend on the type of job.
"It was a long road for me and my peers," said Floyd, the communication and information management noncommissioned officer for the 864th Engineer Battalion on Lewis-North. "It takes a lot of heart and dedicated time to actually be a noncommissioned officer, because our points are very high."
A higher standard for promotion points meant more work ahead of Floyd if he ever wanted to be a leader, and the fruits of that work officially paid off Nov. 18 during an NCO Induction Ceremony held for Floyd and 27 other sergeants from the 864th Eng. Bn. at French Theater.
Floyd has already worn the rank for two months, but on that day the stripes meant a little bit more to him.
"It adds a little fuel to the fire," said the Americus, Ga., native. "It gives you that spark. It makes you want to enforce the standards more than what you usually do."
Following a centuries-old means of commemorating the ascent of once-junior Soldiers to their Armies' NCO ranks, the ceremony honors the hard work and dedication inductees put forth to earn their promotions and spotlights their inclusion into the NCO Corps, which, to some, is more or less a brotherhood.
During the climax of the ceremony, inductees cross over a figurative line, portrayed physically by a wooden archway or bridge that symbolizes their entrance into a group of leaders from the ranks of those they lead.
"It's basically a rite of passage," said Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Tipton, the 864th Eng. Bn. senior enlisted leader, who presided over the ceremony. "It's crossing that line from being a Soldier that is led to now what you would call a leader."
"It shows, basically, that they're a little bit different than what they once were," he added.
But Sgt. Jeffery Jones has his own way of putting it.
"It was one thing to be promoted, but this -- I became one of the boys," said Jones, a petroleum supply specialist who earned his promotion to sergeant late last year. "I was actually part of the Corps itself; not just a sergeant."
Jones is like most other inducted NCOs who, at least for a brief time if nothing else, feel distinguished and united -- elite, even.
"Having these ceremonies gives you something to kind of build forward," said Jones, a Nuevo, Calif., native. "like, 'I'm not just going to get promoted; I'm going to have this moment, this time, these few minutes, to be welcomed. Not just promoted, but welcomed.'"
But some, like Sgt. Robert Deskins, believe the storied ceremony is losing its way in the Army. Like a fading tradition falling at the feet of today's generation, Deskins says it's seen less often these days.
"This is one of those ceremonies that's become lost within the ranks," said Deskins, a Kansas City, Mo., native and horizontal construction engineer. "It's one of those time-honored corps things that a lot of people are starting to lose track of."
But Deskins said he felt honored to be a part of a ceremony he says is being lost.
"It's nice having a sergeant major who will actually bring something back and let me feel like a piece of history," he added.
As the new sergeants passed one-by-one under an arch of crossed sabers and then ascended the steps to the auditorium stage for tribute, some wore smiles, some a solemn and disciplined stare. But in both lay an evident sense of pride.
For Floyd and Jones, at least, it was also a time to come full circle -- to reap the benefits of hard work.
"All the points, all the promotion boards, all the deployments -- this was the epitome of my success," Jones said. "We can train all we want, but it's things like this that are the pat on the back -- the 'hey, you finally made it' -- that are important, too."
"We have to keep those traditions alive."