ATTN: Specialist

If only I could go back in time and whisper a few notes in ears of my younger self  . . .

Congratulations on your promotion to Specialist E-4. Don’t put that new rank on your uniform until your unit has a promotion ceremony! If they suck or dislike you, disregard last transmission.

Your Specialist rank is a X factor at any given time. There are many like it, but this one is yours. Everyone you encounter will wonder what type of Spec-4 you are:

  • The sham-shield that seeks to achieve the bare minimum and maybe still acts like a Private
  • The SPC that acts on the phrase “learn the job 2 pay grades above you”
  • The SPC that consistently displays technical and tactical proficiency but probably can’t meet cut-off for Sergeant (E-5)
  • The SPC Soldiers would assume is or once was a NCO without seeing your rank???

There’s history behind why some old-timers call you a Spec-4. Like many others you may encounter, Task & Purpose argues the other Specialist ranks should be reintegrated.

Don’t shy away from opportunities to lead. Sometimes taking initiative means leading from the front – leading Soldiers from the front.

If not likely at your unit, Warrior Leaders Course (WLC) is a great time to practice your leadership skills. Again, don’t shy away from such opportunities. Those DA Form 1059 evaluations will follow you to the end.

Learn your Enlisted Record Brief (ERB) and how an accurate ERB should look. Then mark yours up and ask your Chain of Command and/or S-1 HR clerk to fix it. Figure out which is the best course of action for your current leadership and unit policies/politics.

While you’re fixing your ERB, work on your “I Love Me book” – digital and hard-copies. Then make sure your iPerms includes documentation for your “I Love Me book” and ERB.

Take all counseling statements and sessions seriously. Ask how you can improve. Write feedback in the DA Form 4856 counseling statement instead of simply checking the “I agree” box and signing it. Keep them as supporting documents for reflective learning and future reference.

You do not outrank a Corporal or Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class (PO3), says AR 600-20 – Army Command Policy Para 2-19 and Table 1–2. You and the Air Force Senior Airman are not NCO’s.

Square your dress uniforms away. Have extra name plates, rank… have extra everything that you’re authorized to wear. Too expensive? Buy a few extras every payday.

Buy Stirrups Shirt Stays – preferably Hero’s Pride Shirt Holders, thanks to Lewis Uniform Company – to prevent having to tuck in your dress shirt every time you stand up. This is great for Class B’s.

If you’re going to wear the same black socks in your ASU as you do in ACU’s and everyday life, at least buy high quality socks.

Don’t forget comfortable shoe insoles.

Ask Leaders, any military occupational specialty (MOS), what training and certifications could help enhance your military and civilian career. Then check Army Credentialing On-line (COOL). Leaders of the same career management field (CMF) – i.e. 25 CMF includes 25B,N,U,etc. – can provide great info while those of other fields can assist with versatility. That’s how I found the International Society of Logistics (SOLE). Keep any useful resources for career progression. DropZone will surely have something for you.

Random thought: go to sick call if you have legitimate medical issues. That medical history will help determine your VA disability rating and monthly compensation if applicable. Push the issue and get a second opinion when you feel the need. Sometimes ranger candy just masks the pain.

Learn the Promotion Point Worksheet (PPW) formerly known as the DA Form 3355 and figure out ways to add to it AND improve your technical and tactical proficiency including –

It’s great that you have that CompTIA technical certification but there’s this thing called continuing education units (CEU’s) or professional development units (PDU’s) that you have to acquire to keep the cert current. Otherwise, it expires.

They’re rewarding your hard work under minimal supervision with Certificates of Achievement (COA’s) because they understand how important promotion points are for you to make Sergeant. Those 4 COA’s and 20 promotion points will help. Remember, maybe 50 Soldiers throughout that entire National Training Center (NTC) rotation were awarded a COA. Someone in your Chain of Command (CoC) probably fought on your behalf.

You have the choice to go to Airborne school? Do it! Don’t let the packet collect dust for months while you overthink the pros and cons. There are worse things than being black-holed to Bragg, i.e. . . . well, I don’t have any examples but seriously, do it now or ask for Air Assault or another special skill school instead.

Those Soldier of the quarter competitions: do them. Do all of them. It builds recognition, gives your entire CoC a direct view of your abilities as an overall Soldier, provides great training, and the aforementioned recognition can come in the form of special skill schools slots, awards, coins, travel, and a justified break from work.

Do college courses using that free (as long as you pass) tuition assistance. Many GI Bill users wish they’d used it more.

At some point, you need to talk with the education center, retention NCO, leadership, and loved ones about re-up versus ETS and work or college.

Read some of those Stackpole books in the PX, starting with the Enlisted Soldiers Guide. Structured Self Development (SSD), regardless how many you can do as a SPC, gets you promotion points but not as much knowledge.

Learn from all the things you did, or didn’t do, as a Private to Private First Class.

Don’t say anything on Facebook or Rallypoint that you wouldn’t say to someone senior face-to-face.

Once you’re promoted into the NCO ranks, there is no more picking and choosing when to practice leadership. Every action will determine whether you’re a great, marginal, or toxic leader. The smaller your MOS community the more likely that reputation will follow you – e.g. Air Defense Artillery (ADA) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).

Maybe you should check out the DA Form 2166-8 NCO Evaluation Report (NCOER) and DA Form 2166-8-1 NCOER Counseling and Support Form. The latter should be but isn’t commonly used, but both will help you better understand NCOER’s. Maybe you could integrate the format in any counseling statements you create.

Learn the NCO Creed and understand how it summarizes the duties of a NCO and leader in general. If you’re really high-speed, learn the NCO charge. You’ll never recite it, though.

Prepare for the promotion board now. On average, you’ll need to be familiar with Army programs, unit history, everything on your uniform, erm… Just ask someone who recently went to the board, your CoC, or S-1 for a memorandum listing what’s normally covered. Remember its only a guide and changes unexpectedly.

Have you read FM (TC) 7-22.7 – The NCO Guide? No? You should. Then check out FM 6-22 – Leadership (Leader Development). The reason for these readings is because leading is something you should learn to do better everyday. It’s best to try to understand as much as possible about Army leadership before being promoted to SGT. You don’t need rank to lead. Take the Meyers-Briggs (MBTI) personality test at 16Personalities.com and check out the 5 Love Languages Military Edition if you’re really looking to get a headstart on organizational behavior, emotional intelligence (EQ), and leadership. There’s also leadership courses on Joint Knowledge Online (JKO) and Skillport.

FM 7-22.7 – The NCO Guide talks about expert power. Everyone has it. Simply put, everyone knows something you don’t regardless of rank, date or rank, age, or what’s on your uniform. You are not all-knowing!

Share your knowledge with the Privates. Act as a bridge between them and NCO’s.

Know of but don’t live by the Specialist Creed.