The military is full of symbolic arches; in a short career of seven years, I’d walked through no less than five barriers that intangibly mark a new phase in a soldier’s career. The art of the rite of passage has been largely forgotten about in parts of the civilian world, relegated mostly to religious or educational events. I’d argue it’s a contributing factor to the mid-twenties lack of direction we see in my generation.
As a budding anthropologist, these cultural ceremonies mean a lot to me. They preserve institutional knowledge and values while creating a physical act that reminds leaders of the heavy responsibilities that fall on their shoulders. These responsibilities often come far before an actual promotion. Soldiers are expected to take leadership roles in the months and years leading up to a board appearance. I know I was a training NCO at least four or five months before my sergeant promotion board. It was during this time that I first experienced the NCO induction ceremony.
We were in Kabul, Afghanistan, and our Command Sergeant Major was a stickler for ceremony and appearance. I, being one of many junior enlisted roped into extra work for these events, did not exactly appreciate it at the time. I played a speaking role in the ceremony, one of the soldiers in the aptly named Soldier’s Request. It was a series of clunky statements in the form of “Sergeant, train me for…” and “Provide me the necessities of food and drink, Sergeant.” During rehearsals (and there were many), some felt like the ceremony was all form and no function; a way for the higher-ups to have a self-congratulatory event at the expense of the junior enlisted.
That sentiment vanished during the actual ceremony. We realized we were honoring a chain of promotions and leadership that date back to 1776. Those being inducted changed a little that day.
Maybe they stood up a little straighter; maybe it was that they talked with a bit more authority. I think a part of it was they held more respect in the eyes us junior enlisted. It’s one thing to put on rank and a title, too often soldiers get promoted and get sent back to serving in almost the same function as they were before their promotion. It’s another to watch someone physically walk through the barrier separating the NCO. This is where the value comes from, where the form is a prerequisite for function. The walking, the ceremonial passing of food and drink, and even the (sometimes silly) Soldier’s Request harken back to a previous era where the values of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps started.
It wasn’t until the tail end of my career that I got to walk through the arches myself. I’d been promoted to Sergeant nearly three years earlier by this point. It’s unfortunate; at this point, I was basically a career analyst and, even as a sergeant, I was the junior ranking soldier in my office. Participating in the ceremony brought me back to the days of having soldiers and meeting my first first-line supervisor. It was the capstone to my army service, a reminder of everything that came before.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.”
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