NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – A soldier assigned to the 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, received a special surprise on Forward Operating Base Fenty Feb. 16.
U.S. Army Sgt. Mary Crawford, a Bellingham, Wash., native, was presented with a battlefield promotion to the rank of staff sergeant by Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Schroeder, the highest-ranking enlisted leader for the 101st Airborne Div.
“Originally, back in the day, literally, you got pinned on the battlefield,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Emily Baker of Knoxville, Tenn., acting company commander with Company B, 426th BSB.
According to the Army, battlefield promotions were common during World War II, but were discontinued when the Army centralized management of promotions following the Vietnam War.
Baker explained that what made Crawford’s promotion so unusual is that normally, unlike in previous wars, there is now a paperwork process that soldiers have to go through to be considered for a battlefield promotion. If a soldier is working at a higher level than their rank, then they can apply for promotion.
In Crawford’s case, Baker said, Schroeder spoke to her company first sergeant and made the on-the-spot decision to promote her.
Crawford, an armament noncommissioned officer in charge, was called in front of a crowd of visiting sergeants major without knowing what was to befall her.
“It was surreal,” said Crawford. “It was a like a dream, like, is this really happening? Is this a joke? Because I thought he was going to give me a coin.”
Schroeder said he was impressed with her performance when he had met her earlier in the deployment, and he had seen and heard good stories from other soldiers regarding her leadership. Then he announced he was going to personally promote Crawford to staff sergeant.
“When he said that, I was like, ‘Are you serious?’” said Crawford. “It was a big surprise.”
Schroeder ripped off her sergeant rank and immediately replaced it with staff sergeant. The crowd applauded the bewildered Crawford, then congratulated her.
“I’ve known her for over two years now,” said Baker. “Her personality reminds me a lot of myself. We are kind of the softer side of leadership, and I think she does a great job developing her soldiers. She is working at a [staff sergeant] level, at least, since we deployed. The former NCOIC was pulled off to do [personal security detachment] duties. So she took over the shop. She never shied away from that experience. And she has done a great job ever since.”