FORT SILL, Okla. -- Once a Soldier has met time requirements, Command Sgt. Maj. Carl Fagan, Fires Center of Excellence CSM, said the best thing a Soldier can do to go to the promotion board is "Ask for the order."
"A Soldier approaches his or her leadership and asks them, almost demands, 'Tell me what I need to do to get promoted to the next rank.'"
He said don't let the leader off the hook with the response of "You're not ready yet."
"What does ready mean, specifically? What do I need to do to get ready? Because once you actually have that conversation, then the leader finds him or herself obligated in the process," said Fagan.
TIPS FOR PREPPING
"The first thing a Soldier should do to get them ahead of the game is to ask their first sergeant from which guide should they study," said Fagan. "Their first sergeant is going to be sitting on the board so at the very least you're getting one of the board members telling you where they're pulling their questions and answers from."
For the staff sergeants board, Fagan said Soldiers need to look beyond study guides into field manuals, Army doctrine publications and Army doctrine reference publications.
At some point during the preparation process, the Soldier's study partner needs to be their first-line leader or part of their chain of command.
"This adds another layer of pressure. Pressure is good because we're trying to make a diamond," said Fagan.
He said the second most important thing is to know word-for-word Army Regulation 670-1 or Department of the Army Pamphlet 670-1.
"Once you know that, then actually make sure the stuff is on the uniform where the regulation said it's supposed to go. These are really simple things, but they're often the things that people mess up."
He said including the first sergeant in this process will ensure everything on the uniform is right before the board.
"If I'm the first sergeant and I know I've looked at that uniform and I said that uniform is good, it's going to be good on Game Day. This is my word that's walking into this room," said Fagan.
Although a lot of Soldiers are hesitant to engage their first sergeant directly in their professional development, Fagan said the secret to getting along with them and other senior noncommissioned officers is to ask them questions.
"Sergeants major loved to be asked questions, especially opinion pieces," Fagan said with a smile.
He said the last way to start off the board on the right foot is to report properly.
"There's only one correct way to report. It's 'sergeant major. [Your rank] so-and-so reports.' That's it. Period. If you make a good first impression everything else will go well."
Going to the boards for promotion or competition, is an uncomfortable process. But, Command Sgt. Maj. Derrick Rankins, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery CSM said the trick is to treat it like any other training event.
"I had a leader who told me development is not an option," said Rankins.
Rankins said going to the boards regardless of the end result creates better leaders because the Soldier practices good study habits; learns how to keep their composure in stressful conditions; and ultimately gains more knowledge about their job and what they need to succeed in the Army.
Part of the board is to see how well a Soldier keeps their bearing under pressure. Rankins laughed when he retold how his first sergeant threw a doughnut over his head during his sergeant board to see how he would react.
"I just stayed focus and answered my question. I didn't move."
When a Soldier volunteers to go to the Soldier or NCO Board he said it shows leadership they can put in the work necessary to do other competitive training like Airborne or Air Assault schools.
Rankins said to pass the boards, Soldiers only need to focus on applying themselves. That mentality served him well as he moved up the ranks. It also earned him the title of distinguished honor graduate during the Advanced Leaders Course. But, when he was told he was top of the class, his lack of reaction surprised the instructors.
"My instructor was like, 'That's all?'" said Rankins.
He said his goal was not to be distinguished honor graduate, but to push himself. He said too often Soldiers chase achievements and overlook the task at hand.
"I always put my best foot forward and if it came out to be the top of the class then that's where it landed me."
Fagan echoed that mentality.
"Even though I said to 'Ask for the order,' no one should be consumed by getting promoted. A lot of negativity comes from that. Force the leadership to tell them what they need to do to succeed and then get about the business of demonstrating that day-to-day work performance, that you have the potential for the next rank."
The Army focuses on physical fitness, but leaders say it's the mental toughness that separates Fires Soldiers from the rest.
"Air defense artillery and field artillery are probably the most educated of all the combat arms branches," said Fagan. "We have more college degrees per NCO than any other combat arms MOS. My advice to a young Fires person aspiring to be a sergeant major or command sergeant major is get your college degree. Start early and finish. It's going to separate them from their peers, or make them as competitive as their peers."
Staff Sgt. Amanda Missick, B Battery, 1-31st FA, and FCoE NCO Board winner of the third quarter, said she enjoyed going to the board because it tested her knowledge.
"It assists you in being sharper as an NCO and whether most NCOs want to believe it or not, it makes you more competitive. It assists you in stepping out of that pack."
After winning at the battalion and brigade levels, she had one month to prepare for the post-wide board. She said breaking down regulations helped her retain the information.
"I would open a regulation and find one interesting to me. I'd read the entire regulation from front to back and highlight things that jumped out at me and then I'd just go back and read it again later."
Winning comes at a price because Missick will now go on to compete again, but she said it's her support system that makes it worth the work.
"The way I look at it as I don't see myself as doing it for me really. I see it as doing it for my battalion, or my brigade. Being part of a team where you bring a win home for everyone, not just for myself," said Missick.
That team mentality is what Fagan said will help any leader as they move up in the ranks.
"No matter what new position you get promoted into, or no matter what new unit you come to as a new leader, there are already people there that know how that unit runs. The trick is to just be a positive leader and treat people like people, and people won't let you fail. They'll make sure you know what you need to know and give you the space to do the learning that you need to do to get up to speed.
"I think that holds true from the smallest echelon, from a team all the way up to being a command sergeant major."