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24th MEU ACE lance corporals compete for meritorious promotion

16 Aug 2004 | Lance Cpl. Sarah A. Beavers 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Fourteen lance corporals from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 eagerly waited outside the sergeant major’s office for their shot to earn a meritorious promotion as the squadron held a meritorious corporal board here Aug. 16.

During the competition, each eligible Marine was required to answer fifteen Marine Corps–related questions and properly demonstrate the drill movement “inspection arms.”

The Marines were chosen for this honor in several ways. Some competed on boards in their individual sections, while others were selected based on their training record alone.

“I was chosen by my section because I met the most requirements,” said Lance Cpl. Zacariah Freebourn, an AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey mechanic from Largo, Fla., whose Physical Fitness Test score, completed Marine Corps Institute courses and expert rifleman badge earned him the privilege of representing his section without going through a preliminary board.

It’s no secret that there are many challenges faced by Marines trying to find time to study with the increased work pace while deployed to Iraq. However, supporting operations in hostile areas has also had its benefits in helping the Marines retain their knowledge.

“The [acronyms] make sense because you’re actually applying them,” said Lance Cpl. Erin Covert, 22, a food service specialist from Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

But a board isn’t just the ability to answer questions correctly or perform perfect rifle manual. It’s also about being able to keep your composure under stress.

“Bearing is very important, especially when they get a question wrong,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Petitt, 27, a Brownsville, N.J., native and one of five members of the meritorious board. “If I see body movement, facial change, teeth [grinding] … it shows me they can’t take rejection. When they beat themselves up inside, they’ve already lost.”

For many of the Marines, this was the first time they had ever participated in a meritorious board, and they embraced the challenge with a warrior-like enthusiasm.

“You have to sound off and be confident,” said Freebourn. “I knew I got answers wrong, but I stuck with [them]. Its not like they’re going to laugh at you if you [make a mistake].”

Three hours later, all the Marines gathered back at the sergeant major’s office to learn who had been chosen the new non-commissioned officer in HMM-263.

“If I could, I’d make each and every one of you a corporal. All of you have demonstrated today that you have what it takes,” said Sgt. Maj. John Rethage, the squadron’s sergeant major, to his Marines at the conclusion of the board. “But today we can only select one.”

That one was Lance Cpl. Randal Fitzgerald, 20, a ground support equipment mechanic from Fisherville, Va.

“It was fun,” said Fitzgerald, who will be promoted September 2, 2004. “But nerve-wrecking.”