It's one of the most nerve-wracking moments for a young specialist or sergeant hoping to move up in the ranks: stepping in front of the promotion board. In preparation, troops feel compelled to study and memorize every last question that the battalion's first sergeants and sergeant major could possibly ask.

Throughout the process, each first sergeant will ask you questions that they believe to be paramount to both your role in particular and to NCOs in general. The subjects span the gamut, ranging from something like handling medical emergencies to spouting off regulations verbatim. And there's no clear way of knowing what they'll ask, so it's best to study everything.

With that being said, you don't have to go insane trying to fit every last regulation number in your head right before stepping into the board. You should still study and if you say that you didn't because of an article you read on We Are The Mighty, you will be laughed by your chain of command — and me, as I hold my DD-214. Okay, especially by me, who may or may not screencap the conversation and send it to US Army WTF Moments. I digress.

Passing the board is about much more than your ability to parrot off semi-relevant information to higher ranking NCOs. It's about your chain of command gauging your competency and potential to lead.


Long before your name even appears on any kind of candidate list, your first sergeant will consult your first line supervisor. If they think you're ready, they will have a quick chat and your squad leader or platoon sergeant will argue for your promotion. If not, they aren't even going to raise your hopes.

Your squad leader is (or should) always going to fight for you to advance your career. The moment your first sergeant is convinced that you're ready for the next level of responsibility, you've successfully persuaded one-fifth of the board members.

If your squad leader didn't have faith in you, they never would have put you on that list.

(U.S. Army photo by Timothy Hale)

Then it comes time to actually study. Your squad leader can't cheat for you and give you the answers, but they can find out which topics each first sergeant might ask about. This means you should definitely take their advice if they advise you to study certain areas.

Next, we arrive at the big day: the promotion board. Keep as level of a head as you can. I don't know if this will help you or stress you out further, but in the time between the previous person walking out and you showing up, they're discussing you among themselves. It could be nothing more than a simple nod and a "I like this guy" but, make no mistake, they are talking about you.

Something as small as that nod of approval could seal your fate before you march in. The rest of the proceedings are just to convince anyone still on the fence.

It's the big moment. Don't lose your cool or else you'll get rejected and have to come back again when they think you're ready.

(U.S. Army photo by Timothy Hale)

You're sitting in the chair now and the first sergeants are hitting you with questions. You find yourself stumped. There are two old tricks I've heard from NCOs but, as always, read your audience and choose wisely.

Some say you should give an answer and be confident about it, even if you're not sure that it's right.This shows that you'll stick to your guns — but it could also make you seem like a complete dumbass.

Others say you should be humble, and respond with a respectful, "first sergeant, I do not know the answer to that question at this time." If you admit you don't know, it shows that you are honest — but it could also mean you're unprepared if it was an easy question.

Both are technically good responses, but they could bite you in the ass. It all depends on the board members.

Another bit of advice, try to take the board while you're deployed. The questions tend to be easier (since your deployment is proving your worth to the Army) and you don't need to get your Blues in perfect order.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth, 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office)

The first sergeants may drop some heavy-hitters on you, but the heaviest of all will come from the sergeant major. Impress him and you're as good as gold.

Every unit and promotion board is different but, generally speaking, the sergeant major will ask you situational questions to determine your worth as an NCO. One question that stuck out for me was as follows:

You and a friend are drinking heavily by the lake. Your friend gets seriously injured and needs to get to the hospital. It's fifteen minutes away on a path that no one takes, including law enforcement. Your cell phones are both out of service but you know the park ranger will make their rounds in one hour. Do you take the risk and drive there drunk? Or do you wait it out and risk them bleeding out?

It's a trick question. You should answer in a way that demonstrates your understanding of military bearing and being an NCO. The only correct answers are, "I would never put myself in a position where myself and a passenger get drunk without having a legal way home" or "I would stabilize their wound then get to a point with better reception."

Then again, I've also heard of a sergeant major asking a quiet and shy specialist to sing the National Anthem at the top of their lungs. It's nearly impossible to know what's going on in a sergeant major's head.