By Mr. J. Paul Bruton (USAREC)January 2, 2014
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Jan. 2, 2014) -- Several Soldiers wearing Army Service Uniforms and serious expressions shuffle nervously about battalion headquarters. Their uniforms are as crisp as the newly released one-hundred dollar bill and have almost as much detail. Unit crests and gloss-black shoes catch the light, rows of ribbons tell a series of stories to those with military-trained eyes. And everything had better be placed, pressed and perched exactly as the Army regulations state they should be, or you might as well go home.
While some Soldiers are able to stay cool when facing a board made up of five stern-faced senior noncommissioned officers, for many it's an experience that becomes a constant battle of nerves versus knowledge -- and it's pretty hard to impress the board if your nerves win the battle.
As soon as a person is sworn into the Army, even from the earliest stages of basic training, Soldiers face situations where they must know the answers to questions. From first-aid to basic rifle marksmanship, drill and ceremony to the chain of command -- there's little room in the Army for wrong answers -- or receiving the dreaded "No-Go."
So what are some proven tips and tricks from Soldiers who have a wealth of experience when it comes to facing the board?
In his 23 years in the Army, Sacramento Battalion's Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Stoneburg has faced his share of boards. He has also seen his share of boards from the other side of the table -- as a board member. In fact, Stoneburg said he has lost count of just how many boards he has participated in.
"As board president, I think I've been on about twelve boards. I've probably participated in over 20 boards as a board member, and 20 or so more as a participant," said Stoneburg.
From "Soldier of the Month" and "Soldier of the Year" boards, all the way up to the incredibly difficult and prestigious "Sergeant Audie Murphy Board," Stoneburg has been involved in them all. And while he said he's never had anyone so nervous they ran screaming from the room, he said he believes that every participant is nervous, or at least starts out that way. He also said that contrary to what some Soldiers may believe, the board is not trying to intimidate or make Soldiers nervous. In fact, he said, for most boards, it's just the opposite. Board members wants Soldiers to do well.
"No, we're not trying to intimidate -- absolutely not," said Stoneburg. "On the flip side, we don't want them to get too relaxed to where they lose their military bearing, either. We definitely want them to remain professional."
Stoneburg said his best advice for Soldiers to succeed when facing a board is to bring a solid combination of military bearing and knowledge, or in his words, "Be confident and prepared."
On the other end of the participation spectrum, Sgt. James Shapiro recently participated in just his third board -- a promotion board at Sacramento Battalion. Assigned to Capitol Company's Arden Center, Shapiro admitted that confidence was not his best asset when he faced his first board.
"I was scared to death," he said. "But as I continue on my military career, I've progressed to where that 'fear of the unknown' tends to go away now. I start off nervous and then it gets easier after the first few questions."
Shapiro's tips for facing the board?
"Tip number one would be to practice a mock-board with someone -- a spouse, friend or supervisor. That helped me a lot," said Shapiro. "Tip number two: Breathe! Both before and during the board," he said. "It's easy to forget to just breathe."
Sgt. 1st Class Marc Baker, a master trainer with Sacramento Battalion, has been in the Army just shy of 14 years and estimates he has participated in more than 50 boards as either a member or a recorder. He agrees that nerves are the downfall of many Soldiers who come in to face the board, and that almost no one is impervious.
"From what I've seen, I would say they're all nervous," said Baker. "Even if they have a persona of being together, they all reveal something that tells you they are dealing with nerves. Some fidget, some sweat, a lot tap their hands on their legs; some even mouth words or quietly talk to themselves without realizing it."
Even though the board wants participants to do well, facing the board turns out to be as bad for some -- or worse -- than they'd expected.
"The worst I've seen, a Soldier got light-headed and almost fainted, then got up and stumbled out of the room," said Baker. "I've even seen Soldiers repeat, 'I don't know the answer, I don't know the answer,' over and over, just to get the board over with as fast as possible."
Stoneburg has also seen some pretty rough outings from would-be board participants.
"I've actually had Soldiers appear before the board with such significant uniform violations that they ended up being dismissed before we even got started," said Stoneburg.
Baker echoed Stoneburg concerning blatant uniform violations being completely unacceptable.
"Soldiers need to be familiar with AR 670-1, 'Wear and Appearance of Army Uniform.' It's extremely important to pay attention to details," said Baker.
While Baker's key advice for succeeding at boards might sound obvious at first, he said Soldiers often put this off until it's too late.
"Go to more boards -- such as 'Soldier of the Month' and 'Soldier of the Quarter' -- so you can become familiar with the process," said Baker. "It really is the best way to get the experience that helps you do better."
"And do not let your promotion board, be your first board!"