As a lower enlisted, if you mess up, you’ll get smoked — or at least get a talking-to. Once you become an NCO or an officer, your ass is grass if you act like a young Private (there’s some leeway for butterbars, but not much). Be warned, young lower enlisted with your eyes on the prized NCO rank: There’s a line in the sand. Once you enter the NCO Corps, you can no longer do any of the following.
1. Shaming / skating
Don’t expect much downtime as a junior NCO — training meeting over here, command and staff meeting over there. There’ll be a lot of dog and pony shows between the moments you need to actually do your freaking job.
There’s literally no time to sit on your phone and ask the daily, “why haven’t they cut us lose yet?”
2. Mistakes out of ignorance
Young Privates botch setting up a radio and no one bats an eye. A Sergeant messes up with that same radio and someone is on their ass about why they didn’t take the time to download all the manuals in their free time to learn a piece of equipment that was just fielded.
Lower enlisted learn things as they progress, so mistakes are common. Senior NCOs can rely on other people to know how to do it, so mistakes are rare. As for junior NCOs… you’re on your own.
3. Failing to meet standards (even just barely)
Standards are there for a reason. If a private just barely misses their run time or just barely misses weapons qualification, it’s not the end of the world
even if it seems like it is. Their NCO should help get them back up to the standard and things are good again. No harm, no foul, and everyone looks good.
The subordinate looks good because they improved
even though it’s just to the standard. The NCO looks good because they helped nudge them to where they were supposed to be.
4. Doing dumb sh*t with your free time
Depending on your unit and immediate chain of command, team-building exercises off duty, like when your entire squad goes out to get smashed after payday, is the norm. If you’re a Private, go nuts! Enjoy your time. NCOs and officers usually attend to see what their troops are really like, and it’s worth it even if they have to play the sober babysitter.
Even when the boots finally come off, an NCO’s job isn’t done. If you can manage to do something other than make up the work you couldn’t get to earlier in the day (meaning filling out bullsh*t paperwork, reading useless manuals, and getting ready for the next day), it doesn’t matter — someone f*cked up! Even if you’ve just met the kid and haven’t drilled into them how your unit operates, you’re in trouble with them. Never a day off.
5. Complaining in general
No one likes hearing complaining about minor things. If a Private is told, “suck it up, buttercup,” then that’s the end of the conversation. Plenty of things suck, and it’s not like crying will make things better. Best of all, no one cares if a lower enlisted complains. Things get better or they suck it up.
If an NCO or an officer whines that it’s too hot, everyone from the lowly Private to the full-bird Colonel laughs at the pansy. Complaining about mundane crap will destroy a hard-ass reputation and open the floodgates for their subordinates to keep b*tching.
5. Being protected from the sh*t rolling downhill
This one depends on if you’re a good NCO/Officer. A good leader stands in front of that incoming sh*t-boulder rolling at their troops and tries to keep them out of the suck as much as possible. If it splashes, that’s fine. If a leader throws their troop under said boulder, they don’t deserve to be called a leader.
Let’s say, for example, a Private is driving a Humvee and rear ends the Brigade Commander’s personal car. The Brigade Commander will want their head on a spike. Each leader along the way has the choice to talk the previous link on the chain of command out of decapitating an idiot and displaying their severed head for an honest mistake.
Eventually, this particular boulder rolls into the first-line supervisor. Any leader worth their rank would pull an excuse out of their ass as to why it was actually not the private’s fault, but their own. If getting smoked until they’re sore is the only consequence, that Private has a damn good leader.