As a career counselor with the Michigan Army National Guard, Staff Sgt. Devin Smith can’t offer junior enlisted soldiers a fail-safe formula for promotion success, but he can provide an arsenal of advice capable of changing the trajectory of a career.
Smith’s decade of service includes five years on active duty, four years with the Ohio National Guard and his current assignment in Michigan. A combat medic by trade, Smith’s past assignments include time with the infantry, cavalry, and airborne units, most notably as an Air Assault “Black Hat,” rappel master, and medical sustainment instructor, as well as senior medic for Ranger Training and Assessment Course.
Members of the reserve component encounter different career progression challenges than active-duty service members because of restrictions on the number of positions and vacancies available to them. But, Smith maintains, cream rises to the top.
“I believe the heritage and spirit of the military holds true regardless of what component you belong to. An enlisted soldier who aspires to be an NCO should approach promotions the same whether they are active, Guard or reserve,” he said. “Just be the best soldier you need to be and the promotion will take care of itself.”
Here are ways to make that happen:
- Character counts. “Have the attitude of gratitude and be thankful for any opportunity that comes your way,” Smith said. “Many people check all the boxes. On paper they are ready to become NCOs, but their hearts and minds aren’t crafted in a way that is becoming of a noncommissioned officer.”
- Complete PME as soon as eligible for career advancement. “Care about your career because nobody else will,” he said.
- Be ready physically, mentally, technically, and tactically to assume the next level of responsibilities. “Know your job and up, all the way to your boss’s boss, and the different programs associated at the unit level,” Smith said.
- Find a mentor with a proven track record of integrity. “Success is different for all of us,” Smith said. “But if you only look up to those with your military occupational specialty or with the qualifications you plan to have one day, then you will fail to find a mentor of true substance that can break through to you.”
- Embrace change by moving to different units, locations, and types of missions to learn and gain a wide range of experiences.
- Constantly seek to improve. “We’re talking about going on orders, volunteering for community events to represent the Guard. Increase your domain knowledge. Your accolades and achievements are your resume,” Smith said. “You want to be the type of leader others would follow.”
- Maintain copies of your documents, including awards, certificates, and appraisals.
When M-Day soldiers feel “stuck” in their careers, Smith believes a change of scenery can be the answer. He says applying to another unit, switching to a new MOS when renewing a contract or going on orders can reignite a career.
“Maybe you need to have your passion come find you,” he said. “Let’s put you in a different experience, immerse you into the military culture and see what you like and don’t like. Then they can feel less stuck.”
Smith expects this year to be another good year for NCO promotions.
“Last year was a really good year because they were promoting people who were eligible and due to COVID, we were able to promote based off of need and not who first completed PME. Soldiers were promoted through our Exception to Policy program,” Smith said. “This year is a good year because there are a lot of vacancies force-wide.”
While there is no golden ticket for promotion, Smith says it takes an investment of more than one weekend a month and two weeks a year to steadily climb the promotion ladder.
“No matter how hard you work during those 36-40 days, it is still 40 days,” he said. “You must design your life to be an example of the rank you plan to hold; becoming a leader in life so that you can exude leadership qualities and deserve promotions. If you plan to lead soldiers, the regular M-day investment won’t cut it.
“Stop thinking you can put in the same effort a private does when you’re an NCO,” Smith added. “The NCO corps is hard work. Every chevron and rocker is earned. If that commitment is too great, then stay lower enlisted and serve the best way you know how, as a citizen soldier and a member of the team.”Read comments