FORT STEWART, Ga. - Anyone who has been in the military longer than a few years can attest that making cutoff scores for promotion can be a difficult task. Making the cut can seem almost impossible, especially in a Military Occupational Specialty where the points constantly hover at the maximum, 798.
The road to promotion can be long and draining, but as Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Harrison, a track mechanic, claims, in the end it is well worth the sacrifices.
"After Operation Iraqi Freedom V, I saw my brother get promoted to sergeant and I felt like he was trying to make it a competition," said Staff Sgt. Harrison, who is attached to Co. B, 3rd Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Third Infantry Division. "I started working towards points because I definitely didn't want to get beat by my younger brother."
But after a while, his life got into a rhythm and he lost momentum. About a year later, he began to see a flaw in the system that caused him to restart his quest for promotion with even more determination.
"There is one thing about the Army that is really bad," Staff Sgt. Harrison explained. "If you are lower ranking than someone in your chain of command, even if you know he is wrong you have to grit your teeth and do what he says. That got really aggravating after a while because I kept seeing these higher ranking people making decisions that I wasn't really comfortable with. That really motivated me to jump back on the promotion point bandwagon."
As he worked towards promotion, which for his MOS stands almost permanently at 798, there were multiple times when he had to question whether all the hard work was even worth the effort.
"The promotion point system has changed dramatically since I first started, and one of the most difficult things is when the system changes, the points change and you end up losing almost everything," he said. "Going back to zero really takes its toll mentally, because you think, 'should I really put in this much effort just to go back down again?'"
The criteria changed twice, costing him more than 350 points each time. It took months after each setback to regain the points he had lost.
There are many different ways to earn points, each with their own set of challenges.
"You really have to find out where you are missing points," he explained. "I had enough awards to where I was maxing out those categories, but I had to work to maximize my scores on the range, in the physical fitness test, military education, correspondence courses and 40-hour block classes."
But the biggest way to earn points is also the most challenging.
"College is really the number one thing that helps," Staff Sgt. Harrison explained. "But you can't do it overnight, it is time consuming."
Working towards promotion requires a full-time commitment.
"Personal life goes out the door when you are trying to get points," he said. "When I was going to college, I was doing up to three classes a semester, and that's along with the daily grind of everyday life. That really took a toll because the Army doesn't give you much time off, so I had to really make some sacrifices. I pretty much kissed sleep and my weekend's goodbye."
Spending so many hours on school wasn't all work, though.
"I was actually taking college courses in military history about a lot of things I've always wanted to learn," he said. "I may have given up sleep, but I also gained a lot of knowledge."
The best tip Staff Sgt. Harrison learned during his journey was to prioritize.
"I knew the only way I was going to make points was if I squeezed every little point out of every section," he explained. "I had to come up with goals and just work one category at a time."
Finally, after two years of constant work, he made enough points -- only days before another change affected the promotion system. When it was all calculated, Staff Sgt. Harrison had collected 800 points, maxing the system.
"I was a little worried once my name came on the promotion list," he admitted. "I knew I was going to get audited so I had to make sure I had all my paperwork lined up, but I also knew I could finally sleep at night."
But in a way, becoming a staff sergeant was bittersweet.
"I was so excited because I could finally relax, but I was also kind of nervous," he said. "If you have a goal and you've been reaching for it for so long, it becomes your way of life. When you finally get to that goal, you leave yourself wondering, 'what's next?'"
The next step for Staff Sgt. Harrison only naturally will be working toward becoming promoted once again, and passing on the many valuable lessons he has learned to Soldiers.
"You can't do it by yourself," he stresses. "You have to have some kind of a support group, and you have to stay with it. The progress that you make is motivation enough that eventually you'll get there. If you think you deserve something enough, don't stop until you get it. I really thought in my mind that I deserved it, so I wasn't going to give up."