My army career was right on track. I had been in the 3 years at this point, coming up on 4, and already had completed air assault school, been awarded my expert infantry badge, and had one 15 month deployment under my belt. I was assigned to the scout platoon sniper section and was waiting for a sniper school packet to get final approval from the company commander. I had been studying for the sergeant promotion board for months. I knew that study guide like the back of my hand, I knew whatever question I was asked by the Command Sergeant Major I would have an answer for.
I went to the promotion board that morning and blew it out of the water. My dress uniform was perfect. No one was able to find a single deficiency. The Soldiers Creed and the Non-Commissioned Officers Creed came out of me without a hitch. I never missed a beat. My First Sergeant couldn’t have been more impressed with me. I had a unanimous recommendation for promotion. Which was unheard of for my unit. My command sergeant major would never promote someone their first time at the board. As far as I was concerned, I was untouchable. Nobody could tell me anything.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that attitude was going to be my downfall. After the board, I was promoted to Corporal that week and put in charge of my sniper team. My company had a two week field exercise to support gunnery the following week, but we would be back for the weekend to take a break and refit. My section had been humping gear all over the training area setting up sniper hides and Observation Points (OP) nonstop. 3 hours a night of sleep was what we were averaging and by the time the weekend came around my section was ready to go out and drink the town dry.
I arrived at the company, dropped my kit, wiped the dust/rust off my rifle, got cleaned up and headed out to the bars on Veterans Boulevard. After a week of barely any food and 100 degree temperatures, it would be fair to say that we were getting very drunk. Very fast. Everyone was celebrating me getting promoted and passing the board. I can’t remember how many shots I had taken or how many beers I slammed down before the bar closed, but I do remember my buddy Chia telling me to give him my keys. ” Bro, give me your keys, your ass is wasted.
We will get your truck in the morning. ” Instead of listening I told him to get lost I can handle my drinking. I’m a scout. Looking back, I wish he had knocked me on my ass right then and there. I hopped in my truck and started to pull out of the parking lot of the bar to make the trip back to post. I barely made it a 14 mile down the road before I saw blue lights in my rear view…. that’s when I knew my career and my life was about to take a drastic turn. I could see the state trooper walking up to my window. My chest was pounding and my hands were shaking, I was so terrified.
The only thing I could think of doing was light a cigarette and try to calm down. “How are you doing tonight sir? Do you know why I pulled you over? ” Ive heard those words a dozen times and normally I would have had a quick witted answer but this time! just sat there and shook my head. I gave him my license, military ID, insurance. All the usual stuff when you get pulled over. But when he came back and asked me to step out of the vehicle my heart dropped into my stomach. I knew right then and there | was going to jail. He had me conduct a sobriety test that I failed miserably.
The parking lot I had pulled into was another bar parking lot that my first sergeant had been drinking at, and he was walking out of while I was getting arrested. He came running up asking what was going on and the officer explained. The look of absolute disappointment from that man made me feel like I was a kid again and had just pissed off my father. He didn’t say a word to me and he didn’t have to. I knew exactly what he was saying just from his face alone. I spent the weekend in jail and those were the longest hours I have ever had to myself. All I could think about was what was going to happen to me.
I ran every situation that could possibly happen through my mind again and again. After I was released to my Platoon Sergeant (PSG) and Platoon Leader (PL) Monday morning, they drove me back to my house to shower, change, and get ready to head back out the field. I never asked a single question. Every answer I gave was simply roger. I snapped to parade rest any time they talked to me so I didn’t fuel the fire that was already happening with my Chain of Command (CoC). After my company was back out in the field I was told to report the First Sergeant at the Tactical Operations Center (TOC).
As soon as I walked in, he ripped my corporal rank of my chest, threw it on the ground, and proceeded to give me the worst ass chewing of my life. I felt less than a man by the time he was done with me. Afterwards, I moped around for a day or two. Dragging my feet and not really caring about anything anymore. I had lost my sniper team, my promotion, and my promotable status. All because I had to go out and think that I was too good to get help from anyone. All the good that I had done up to that point was completely forgotten.
I was just another shit bag as far as my Chain of Command was concerned. But then | realized something. All they did was demote me. All they did was take my section. That was it. I wasn’t being kicked out of the army. I wasn’t getting busted down to private. In my mind that said one thing to me, I messed up but they need me. I’m a good soldier. I can come back from this. I spent the rest of the time in the field go out of my way to get things done. | volunteered for every detail no matter how bad it was. I made sure tasks I was given were done fast and to the best of my ability.
I was determined to show my Company that I may have messed up but I was willing to do whatever it takes to get back where I was and that I wasn’t going to let a little trouble completely destroy me or keep me from having what I had worked so hard to get. My battalion deployed in the following months back to Iraq, and I went to the promotion board every month for a year while I was there. I was denied 11 times, but I kept on going. I was determined the show everyone on that board that I was serious about my career and that I had learned from my mistakes.
After all, I’m human. I make mistakes. But I never make the same mistake twice. The 12th time I went I was recommended and my Command Sergeant Major actually shook my hand, sat me down, and told me he had never seen anyone work this hard to prove they deserve to be an NCO. Most soldiers just give up and accept the title of being a shit bag till they get out. I told him that’s not how I was brought up in the army. An infantryman fights. No matter what. We drive on and push through whatever life throws. That’s why we’re the best of the best. We don’t know how to quit.