Monday, March 26, 2007

Staff Sergeant

My recent promotion makes for a great example of the interesting situations that come up with deploying a National Guard unit. First some background.

I am currently a team leader in an infantry squad. Traditionally, a squad is led by an E-6 SSG and has two E-5 SGT's with a total of 8 or 9 soldiers. This can vary from unit to unit; some Recon and Scout platoons for example are set up for E-5 squad leaders with the squads having only 4 or 5 soldiers.

In the Army, as I assume it is in the other branches, you can't get promoted unless there is a position for you to get promoted to. So for a E-5 to get promoted to E-6, there has to be an open squad leader position. In the normal course of Army life, people are promoted, retire, leave the service, or move to different positions often enough that there are usually positions available for a soldier to get promoted to. But a combat deployment throws those normal conditions out the window.

First off, no one leaves the Army during a deployment, except for injury or death. And despite what the media might make out, that is still rare in Iraq compared to the number of soldiers deployed. When a unit deploys, all personnel are put on 'stop loss', an evil phrase to civilians but just a fact of life to the military. Stop loss simply means that, as provided for in the enlistment contract we all signed, you can't leave the Army in the middle of a deployment. If your enlistment is up halfway through a deployment, you will stay in the Army until your deployment is over. A simple concept, and a time honored one. Gen Washington struggled with having his army's enlistments end before the war was over.

So how does a guy get promoted then if there can be no openings? That is the secret of the Guard on deployment. When my unit left, not all the soldiers were deployed from it. This mission was voluntary for most of us. So there is now a deployed Charlie Company, 2/135 and a rear detachment Charlie Company, 2/135. Not all of the positions are duplicated, it is more like a company and a half. But this is where my promotion comes in. I accepted an E-6 squad leader position with the unit currently at home. I am still a team leader here in Iraq, and will continue to be until we get home. So in effect I have been promoted now, even though I will not be able to man my position until we get back from Iraq.

In the Army, this is known as having the best of both worlds. I am now paid as an E-6 and entitled to the privileges and respect of the rank, while still having the duties of an E-5 team leader. There is of course a higher level of responsibility and accountability that comes with the rank. As I explained to my family, I have to be more responsible, but I don't have more responsibilities. All in all, this is one of those few loopholes in Army regulations that you have to take advantage of when you can. In fact, it may soon be ending. The Pentagon's announcement that henceforth Guard units will be deployed as a whole unit instead of on an individual basis may end the loophole. But unlike a regular Army unit, the National Guard is always recruiting soldiers for specific units at home, even when that unit is deployed. So there is still hope.

In any case, at 15 years in the Army and now an E-6, I am still a bit behind the curve for promotions, so I wont complain about an early one.

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