MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- To be evaluated by a board of your superiors on knowledge, drill, physical fitness and military appearance is no easy task, but the opportunity for accelerated advancement to the next level of leadership is well worth the ordeal for those who are willing to endure the test. Meritorious promotion boards afford Marines that chance.
For one Marine, getting put under the magnifying glass of a panel of staff non-commissioned officers was a welcomed challenge. Cpl. Arthur E. Krenzel III, field radio operator, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, was meritoriously promoted to sergeant at 3rd LAR’s Communications Building, Aug. 15, 2014.
“One of the first things Cpl. Krenzel said when I asked him his age was, ‘I’m an older Marine,’ and I told him that doesn’t mean anything,” said Master Sgt. Michael W. Wilson, communications chief, 3rd LAR. “If you want to catch up to your peers who came in years before you, hard work and dedication will advance you.”
From the rank of lance corporal, Wilson was victorious on four meritorious promotion boards throughout his career.
“Cpl. Krenzel came up to me and asked, ‘What makes a meritorious Marine?’” Wilson said. “Ultimately it’s distinguishing yourself in every area from your peers. There are no words that can be said to get you on a board; it’s obviously something that is seen from the work ethic [of the Marine.]”
Meritorious promotions are not used as rewards or when a personal commendation is appropriate. A meritorious promotion is based on the individual Marine’s ability to take on the responsibilities and duties of a higher grade in an effective manner.
Throughout the day, a panel evaluates each Marine in several areas using ‘the whole Marine Concept’ to make a fair decision on everything the Marine has done and what they have to offer.
Krenzel came from Okinawa, Japan, and was nominated for his exemplary work ethic and leadership within the communications shop. At his previous unit, Krenzel served as a communications chief at the rank of lance corporal and participated in as many field operations and community service events as he could. It was after a training exercise, Krenzel received news of a paper board he won, which earned him the meritorious promotion to corporal at his previous unit.
“Because of my performance in my last unit and all that I accomplished, the board dug deeper into my record, looking into my Service Record Book to see other things I had worked on, earned or volunteered to do,” Krenzel said. “Units don’t inform Marines when they’re selected for a paper board, so [the promotion] was a pleasant surprise.”
Paper boards can be conducted without the selected Marines being present. The Marine’s SRB; along with commendations, awards and community service, provide all the information they need to come to a decision for the winner in that case. For Krenzel, the cause of his success for this board was to stand out among his peers by becoming PME complete, participating in community service, achieving expert on the rifle range, high proficiency and conduct marks and a 1st class Physical Fitness Test and Combat Fitness Test. These boards also include further testing such as uniform inspections ranging from Service “C” to Service “A,” promotion photos for military appearance in uniform, execution of drill cards and question boards.
“Once I heard word that I was selected for the board, I began preparing any uniform items they could inspect,” Krenzel said. “My gunnery sergeant gave me a lot of support. The photo I used for my package was the fifth attempt before it was just right, but I’m thankful for his high standard.”
With such a wide array of areas to prepare for, Krenzel’s leadership began the process of preparing him for the trials ahead. Gunnery Sgt. Baron Thompson, radio chief, 3rd LAR, supported Krenzel by being present for several parts of the board and giving Krenzel any advice or assistance in preparation for the trials ahead.
“They look for someone who always tries to be out in front,” Krenzel said. “If you’re out in front, you’re going to mess up but that’s how you learn. Every time I passed one of my superiors, they asked me a question, constantly trying to test my knowledge. When I took my photo, [Gunnery Sgt. Thomson] always spotted something that was ‘off’ or smudged and I would go retake it. Anything they could do to best prepare me for the board, they did.”
Krenzel’s particular board was held at battalion level with four staff non-commissioned officers evaluating at any given time. Once Marines from different companies within 3rd LAR were selected to compete, the board began with a PFT. The evaluations continued with uniform inspections behind 3rd LAR’s barracks in Service "C" uniform.
“On these boards, the only time you really know where you stand is during the physical fitness portions,” Krenzel said. “You see how well you did against your competitors, but from there, feedback does not come until they announce the winner of the board.”
Drill was the next evaluated event, where candidates were given a drill card at random. Each card had a list of commands to be executed. Each Marine had to execute the card by commanding a platoon of 40 Marines at Lance Corporal Torrey L. Gray Field for evaluation.
“I studied as many different cards as I could, because you never know what you could get,” Krenzel said. “I made sure I studied often so I was ready for any card variation.”
It is how hard the individual Marine is willing to study and prepare that ultimately shift the odds in their favor. According to Marine Corps order P1400.32D, Marine Corps Promotion Manual, "Time in Grade" requirements are waived for meritorious promotions, but those promoted under this program must meet the minimum "Time in Service" requirements. Private first class and lance corporal have no TIS requirement; corporal requires six months TIS and sergeant 18 months TIS; staff sergeant requires four years TIS and gunnery sergeant six years TIS.
“If you want a promotion, you can take it and earn it,” Wilson said. “Every command that I went to, I asked if I could get a chance to go on a board. I asked if there were areas I needed improvement in because I knew what I wanted.”
3rd LAR’s meritorious promotion board concluded with a series of questions from the panel of evaluators in the headquarters company office. Three of the staff NCOs on the panel asked general knowledge and Marine Corps questions, while one asked open-ended questions to see how Marines would respond.
As Krenzel stood ready to answer his final question, he was asked, “Why do you deserve to be a sergeant?”
“The way I answered it was that I stand high in my peer group, I do those things to stand out and learn everything I can to improve myself,” Krenzel said. “In my opinion a meritorious promotion rewards someone who is already displaying those traits. These boards are not incentives to do better, but a way to recognize what a Marine is already doing.”
At the end of all events and evaluations, the panel convenes for a short time to discuss each candidate and choose a winner.
“At the end of it all is when they inform the group who won,” Krenzel said. “I was ecstatic.”
Krenzel’s unwavering determination to advance ahead of his peers drove him to tirelessly prepare for the board. Every day was another opportunity to be more ready than the last, giving him the edge.
“If you’re a meritorious Marine, you should be able to be told in one minute to go get on a board. You should be prepared for your questions, uniforms, physical fitness and be 100 percent ready at all times,” Wilson said. “If you prepare yourself in that way, you’ll be in the best position to win.”