PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Pfc. Dakota Young, sat motionless, dressed in a multi-cam uniform and improvised outer tactical vest decked out as if ready to go out on patrol.
Being grilled from five noncommissioned officers, he fumbled to answer questions, but remained calm to give an answer, the best he could.
Young was the last of six soldiers vying for Soldier of the Month at Forward Operating Base Lightning. Since January, soldiers ranked specialist and below, prepared for future promotions and learned a little more about being a soldier.
“Some of the senior NCOs came to me and asked if we could do something for the soldiers, to prepare them for their promotion board,” said 1st Sgt. Scottie Johnson, first sergeant for both FOB Lightning and Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Brigade, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne (Air Assault). “Myself, and a couple of my sergeants first class decided to start doing NCO and soldier of the Month boards.”
Five SOM candidates, all from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Brigade, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne (Air Assault), waited anxiously outside the conference room next-door to the mayor cell. They have prepared for the board for at least three weeks, being mentored by four of the unit’s junior NCOs. Army Regulations and Field Manuals were readily available, as were on-the-spot uniform inspections and pop-quizzes.
“We put out a study guide on different topics and situations,” said Johnson. “They take those topics and situations and reference the manuals.”
The SOM board consisted of senior ranking NCO’s ranging from first sergeant to sergeant first class. They probed the candidate’s knowledge in a range of topics from customs and courtesies, wear of uniforms, equal opportunity, sexual harassment, leadership, and Afghanistan rules of engagement.
“The questions are standard across the army,” Johnson said. “Being here in a combat zone, we relate them to combat situations.”
Each candidate was asked 20 questions, at least two from each board member, from an array of topics. Each question was worth five points, and the soldier with the most points wins.
After two hours of waiting, Pfc. Christopher Craig was selected as the winner.
“I did it so I would be priority to get E-4, to get a [promotion] waiver when I hit 18 months,” Craig said about his main motivation to participate in the board.
Craig wasn’t sure what he would face when he stepped inside the conference room.
“I went in there thinking the questions would all be from the study guide and FMs,” he said. “Every question they asked me was a situational question.”
Craig said what he gained from the experience was how it helped him be prepared to think on his feet.
“We decided to try to build cohesion with the different entities here on the FOB,” Johnson said of another motivation to start the SOM board. “It’s a competition, also a check in knowledge for the soldiers, and to prepare them for their next rank.”
After the candidates left the room, the mentors were brought in for an after-action review. The junior NCOs were reminded that they are responsible for helping the newest soldiers succeed.
“The board is not always about promotion,” Johnson said. “It’s also to help the soldier learn.”