Friday, May 22, 2015

My Big Promotion

Decades ago, I was the company clerk in the U.S. Army Reserves.  I was my own version of Radar O’Reilly from M*A*S*H.  I controlled all things, including the company jeep, duty rosters, and the paperwork. And the Army operates on paperwork (in triplicate), especially when it’s not operating in the field. 

The epiphany
One day, it dawned on me.  Who types up all the orders?  Me.  Who has deserved a promotion for nearly a year?  Me.  And who has told me countless times I deserved a promotion, but is too lazy to initiate anything?  Captain Cappuccino, my commanding officer (name changed for his own protection).  In my military mind, the math was compelling and the moral imperative was apparent.

So I searched for an MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) slot that was open.  I knew Spanish and found an opening for “interpreter” to help interrogate Spanish-speaking prisoners.  Since we weren’t at war with Spain or Uruguay, the slot was ideal. 

The daring deed
I typed up the orders and left the signature line open for Captain Cappuccino.  I had a pile of about eight items for him to sign, so I stuck my orders in the middle of the pile and handed it over to my lazy bones C.O. for signatures, all the while engaging him in small talk about the deteriorating condition of the coffee machine, the only source of sustenance for the entire unit.

“I wish someone would fix that thing,” he remarked as he dashed off signatures. 

Getting my stripes
The day came for an official company meeting, the official company meeting.  The entire unit stood at “parade rest” in formation. Captain Cappuccino glanced at his paperwork and shouted, “Trottier, David, front and center!”

I marched to the captain, saluted respectfully, and stood at attention—chin up, chest out, stomach in. “Yes, sir.”

Then, he looked puzzled as he glanced through the paperwork (in triplicate). He whispered, “Did I promote you or something?” 

I did not panic; I was ready for the question. “That’s your signature right there, Sir, and I am most grateful.”

“Ah…okay, I see.  Hmm, well, Trottier, you earned it.  Carry on.”

“Thank you, Sir.”  I saluted, about-faced, and marched smartly back into formation. 

The aftermath
To this day, I don’t know if the good captain realized I had helped him do the right thing, or if he thought he had initiated the promotion himself.  He seemed content with what had happened.
After that, I became drunk with power. I unilaterally requisitioned a new coffee machine and surprised Captain Cappuccino with a dramatic unveiling, all at taxpayer expense. 

And now?  Now, I just march forward and keep living. 


  1. Marines don't make rank that easily. You can be active for a few years and you're lucky to make E-3 (Lance Corporal). A mere 0311 ("Rifleman," a.k.a. "The Great Grunt"), I was fortunate to have made E-2 (P.f.c.) just before I was shipped to Vietnam.

    A buddy of mine, my fireteam leader, was a lance corporal. Towards the end of every month, we would gather together and the radioman would read out the promotion list. One month, he called out, "Skip 'X,' Lance Corporal!" I was sure I had misheard that. He already was a lance corporal. Surely, he was now promoted to be an actual N.C.O., an E-4 CORPORAL!

    "No," Skip allowed, "I'm now a real lance corporal."

    "But," I said, pointing to the single chevron and crossed rifles on his collars, "That's lance corporal you're wearing now. So you've been bumped to corporal, right?"

    "Naw," he insisted. "I was a P.f.c. -- like you. I just started wearing the lance corporal chevrons. I figured if they thought I was a lance corporal, they'd treat me like one, and make me fireteam leader. Then they saw that I could actually do the job. So now they've made me lance corporal, for reall."

    I was flabbergasted. "Amazing," I said.

    "Yeah. Amazing. And your rifle is dirty. Go clean it."

  2. Randy, the military is its own reality. :-)

  3. True--"the military is (uniquely) its own reality." But it is not exempt from human nature. Thinking about that commanding officer of yours, it occurred to me that he was simply covering his backside in front of his unit. He learned, late and unexpectedly, that you had pulled a fast one, and he had to think his way fast out of this dilemma. What to do:? Set you up for discipline and publicly admit that he had unwittingly signed your self-promotion?* Or let it pass with no one else the wiser?

    I applaud your semantic dancing (to the theme of plausible deniability), "That's your signature, right there, Sir, and I'm most grateful," as well as his backhanded compliment, "You earned it."

    I think he knew exactly what happened.

    *And isn't that what you still do, to this very day -- self-promotion?

  4. Actually, I think he was actually glad I did all the research and paperwork for him. I had saved his backside at least a dozen times before, and I think he wanted to promote me, but was too lazy to initiate anything. That quality--his laziness--was the reason I was often bailing him out. He needed a guy like me who kept his eye on everything for him. I just didn't want to say that in my original post.