By Mike Strasser, West Point Public AffairsJanuary 26, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Jan. 26, 2011) -- Noncommissioned officers of the Black Knights Sgt. Audie Murphy Club welcomed a new member as Staff Sgt. Gopal Singh became the first West Point inductee during a ceremony held at the Haig Room Jan. 19.
Singh, the hospital education NCOIC at Keller Army Community Hospital, is the ninth member of this elite club which recognizes NCOs who demonstrate superior leadership qualities and abilities characterized by the club's namesake.
While other members of the West Point chapter were inducted at former duty stations, Singh is proud to be the first to achieve this milestone here.
"First of all, it all still feels surreal; it's still sinking in," Singh said. "But second, I'm thinking about the commitment, and what I can do now that is expected of me to further not only the club but the NCO Corps. What can I do to make myself better, my Soldiers better and the Army better'"
If at first you don't succeed...
It took a second attempt before Singh earned membership, but he said the honor would have been worth as many tries as required. The West Point chapter is relatively new and Singh put in his paperwork when the first board convened, only a few months after he arrived on the installation. Singh had experienced various boards before, but the SAMC was unlike any other, he said.
"With other boards, you could study for specific subjects that most definitely will be asked. But with the SAMC board, it is all situational and you don't know from what angle they'll come from," Singh said. "It's also based on your experience, and I don't have a lot of experience. That's something I questioned about myself, whether I had enough experience to answer all of their questions."
The level of uncertainty he experienced was almost like going back to his first NCO board, Singh said. More so, the average board lasts about 20 minutes; the SAMC board can go beyond an hour.
"It was tough. A real eye-opener," Singh said. "I don't even have the words to describe it, really."
A lack of confidence and perhaps some self-doubt left Singh alone outside the board room that day certain he would need another shot to earn that coveted medallion. What was uncertain would be the scheduling of the next board.
With the words 'We don't think you're ready at this time, continue to try,' resonating with him, he decided to do just that. Singh continued to study, research and talk with club members.
"That was my whole goal now to get myself ready," Singh said. "I didn't know when the next board would convene; I just knew I was going to be there again."
When that day arrived, Singh said he had the confidence he previously lacked, and a lot of support from fellow NCOs and at home. Together with his wife, Michelle, they spent hours reviewing the piles of Army knowledge printed on index cards.
On first glance, he said he thought he'd never commit Sgt. Audie Murphy's biography to memory-a must-do for any potential club member.
"She was instrumental for helping me memorize that bio," Singh said. "My wife made sure that there were copies posted on every mirror in the house, and made sure I always had a copy with me. At one point she memorized the first part of it herself and corrected me if I messed up."
To pass the board, a nominee has to be perfect, and Michelle made sure her husband met that standard.
"I'm always going to support him 100 percent, and all his endeavors," Michelle said. "I was there with him all the way, studying the flash cards, the late nights, and I'm so proud of his dedication to this. His induction means a lot, because it proves his dedication and the commitment he put in to earn this."
Singh said their two daughters were too young to fully understand why daddy was always standing at attention or why mommy was redecorating the walls with Audie Murphy trivia.
Returning to the board room, Singh had renewed confidence and more preparation. Still, it wasn't always easy to know exactly how to respond to this continuous barrage of questions. When answering a question, Singh said it's not only important to know regulations, but how to respond tactfully.
Consider this: What if you were to approach a sergeant major wearing glasses out of regulations, what would you say' Singh said normally a person would simply recite regulation, but in this situation with a senior NCO, it is important to consider carefully the appropriate words.
"They want you to answer tactfully, and the board will give you room to see where your thoughts will go, but you could get into trouble if you give too much detail," Singh said.
It was a good question, Singh said because it was military-based, but there were many variables to it. He made sure to respond tactfully, and when he saw the board members nod, he felt assured he got it right.
Exiting the board room depleted of energy, Singh awaited the deliberation of the board members who were reviewing everything from his uniform, his voice articulation, his military bearing and the answers he gave.
"Although I was confident and did so much better than the first time, I was still telling myself if I didn't make it I would prepare again, and keep trying until I did," Singh said.
That wasn't going to be necessary, because when the board brought Singh back inside, a round of congratulations followed. Even after the induction ceremony was over, Singh was still feeling surreally about the experience. While it may take a bit longer to process all the emotion, he said the ceremony itself was a memorable moment and wanted to thank those involved and those in attendance for taking part.
The road ahead
Singh said the motivation to be a better NCO got him into the club. It is this same drive for continual improvement and selfless service he will bring to the club as its ninth local member.
"You know that after your duty day is over, there's still work to do," Singh said. "It's what's expected of me, and I want to make sure that any where I go, I'm always working over and above everything I do."
Sgt. 1st Class Karen Moody, Black Knights SAMC president, works on the same floor as Singh at Keller, and has seen firsthand the kind of NCO he is. They were previously stationed together at Fort Stewart, Ga., where she served as his platoon sergeant in the 3rd Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade, and they deployed in the same company in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While he was preparing for the board, Singh said he would e-mail her questions while she was still assigned at Fort Stewart.
"I've known him since he was a private," Moody, the medical surgical unit NCOIC, said. "He's always had the drive and dedication needed to become a SAMC member. And it's not only about the Soldier/NCO relationships he builds, but the commitment to Family and his church and community is very strong."
The U.S. Military Academy has a smaller pool of NCOs than the average Forces Command or Training and Doctrine post, but Singh hopes to reach out to those who can strengthen the membership of the West Point chapter. His advice: "Don't even wait to hear when the next board is; if the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club has crossed your mind, start studying now," Singh said.
"Find members, ask about questions they were asked and feed off their experiences. Take a piece of paper and write out your strengths and weaknesses. If the PT test is a weakness, dial in on that. It may be overwhelming at first, but take it one step at a time."