FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Feb. 9 — Trying to win soldier of the month honors isn’t just to get a certificate to put in a drawer. It’s a way to improve your chances for promotion, too.
But it’s an ordeal by practiced scowl.
I saw two soldiers being tested for the competition.
Spec. Devin Dahmer was at a table outside of brigade headquarters, assembling and describing the operation of a 7.62mm machinegun to two scowling sergeants, Sgt 1st Class Stephen Link and Staff Sgt. Tass Ryan. Link is the master gunner for the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, so he knew his stuff.
Just as scowly, four sergeants and the battalion’s command sergeant major sat a long table in a room nearby.
Cpl. Matthew Beach knocked the correct number of firm knocks (three, I think; I wasn’t counting, but the sergeants sure were). Stiffly and nervously, he walked into the room. At the command, he walked back toward the door and removed his battle gear and placed them in a neat pile.
Then came the questions: what is leadership, what’s the proper escalation of force when dealing with civilians, on and on. Some of the sergeants spoke in such thick southern accents, I could barely make out what they said. Beach was also having troubles, and had to ask for many questions to be repeated, furthering his obvious discomfort.
Finally it was over and Beach left the room. I don’t know about him, but I breathed a sigh of relief.
As it turned out, a third soldier won the honors of solider of the month: Pvt. 1st Class John Belcher.