My career in the U.S. Army was interesting. All two years, 11 months, 26 days, 14 hours, and 38 minutes of it.
Rounded off, of course.
Even as a rather inexperienced young man it seemed to me that most men who were drafted into the Army went off to war.
One alternative was to enlist and select a specific MOS. Military Occupation Specialty. A job in the Army. I chose Military Journalist and that got me shipped off for training to Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, IN.
More importantly, the assignment was not in a war zone.
As a lowly private in basic training I was tested often and given other options beyond the aforementioned school of journalism. The result of one battery of tests gave me an opportunity to become a warrant officer.
The answer to my question about what a warrant officer did struck me with intense clarity.
Uh, no thanks. The mortality rate of helicopter pilots in the Vietnam War era was not very enticing.
The result of another battery of tests gave me the privilege of attending Officer Candidate School (OCS).
Now we’re talking. More money. Less work. Boss people around. What’s not to like?
As it turned out at the time, there was a minimum six month wait to get into OCS, six months of training, and an enlisted period of three years after the officer commission. Math was not my strong suit but it didn’t take much effort to figure out it was all going in the wrong direction.
So, I stayed a lowly private in the Military Journalism School. For a month.
Yes. One Sunday evening a bunch of us were sitting around the barracks when one of the older soldiers asked me if I had submitted a request to get promoted to Private First Class.
You can do that?
Sure, he said. Just go see the commanding officer and ask to be promoted. He and a few others convinced me that I would get promoted right away. What I did not know at the time was obvious later. They were jerking my chain and setting me up for instant humiliation. That is not how promotions work.
Naïveté does have a place in life and can have unexpected results. I set up an appointment with the commanding officer. At the meeting I told him my name, my rank, and then requested that I be promoted to Private First Class because I had completed my first six months in the Army.
He gave me a strange look.
Uh, Private McElfresh, who told you that it was OK to march into my office and request a promotion?
I explained to the commanding officer— a Captain— that I was told by fellow soldiers and classmates in my barracks that the promotion was a standard procedure; available to all privates and automatically granted after six months.
Unexpectedly, the Captain, grinned, smirked, chuckled, then composed himself sufficiently to ask me a number of questions about school, family, experience, career goals, and personal objectives.
He dismissed me. I saluted and walked back to the barracks where I promptly told my so-called friends and classmates what I did. I asked for a promotion. They howled with derision at my naïveté and obvious stupidity. I felt terrible. For two weeks.
Then I received a promotion to Private First Class.
“Ask and ye shall receive” took on new meaning in my life.