Basic Combat Training begins with drill sergeants
July 18, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (July 18, 2013) -- Every Soldier remembers at least one of their drill sergeants from Basic Combat Training. They were scary and disciplined with their trademark hats as they yelled in your face; hard to forget. Although straight faced and steely, they were also someone to look up to and be mentored by.
"It's not just teaching people about being a Soldier, it's also teaching them about life," said Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Robert Scott, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery.
But drill sergeants are not just the symbols their hats represent, they're regular people underneath. Regular people who sacrifice a lot to be with the Soldiers they stand to train. And each Soldier in the Army today was molded with the sacrifices their drill sergeants made to be there.
The Army chooses only its best to be drill sergeants, and the vast majority don't volunteer; the Department of the Army usually selects them.
Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) James Lowe, B/1-40th FA, was in the process of buying a house near Fort Lewis, Wash., when he got the notice he was selected.
"I never had any aspirations to be a drill sergeant," Lowe said. "The evening I found out about my orders, movers were supposed to come give me an estimate. It was a setback at first. I went through all the normal stages of grief: denial, depression and finally acceptance."
Rowe's wife is now pregnant, but he said he's lucky he finishes his two years "on the trail," a month after she gives birth near the end of this year.
"I've been lucky because I don't know how drill sergeants with kids manage," Lowe said. "It's got to be stressful."
Although he won't be a drill sergeant anymore, he is being stationed in Korea for one year right after he's done here.
"I wanted to go to Hawaii after this, but Korea was all that was available," Lowe said. "It is what it is, so I just have to make the best of it."
Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Jennifer Franks, 95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception), said she was enjoying her duty station in Germany, going on five years, when she got the email. Franks is a single parent, and her mom moved to Fort Sill to help care for her daughter.
"The email said, 'congratulations you have been selected by the Department of the Army to become a drill sergeant,'" Franks said. "I was initially really upset and thinking 'what am I going to do?' This is a deployment right here because you're never with your family."
Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Cesar Sumauang, B/1-40th FA, was selected as well. He said he's missed a lot of his son's life while on the trail because his family stayed in Hawaii, where they have a house.
"I've been here almost two years and have only seen my family once," Sumauang said. "When I left my son was 2, now he's 4."
Even Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Paul Adams who is the only one, out of 13, at B Battery to volunteer said he gives up a lot while away from his wife and daughter.
"Most people don't volunteer because they know it's really hard on families," Adams said. "But I knew there was no better way to become a great platoon sergeant. Being that I have a 1 year old it is very tough. I don't get to see her a lot."
Although many drill sergeants compare it to a deployment, many also say it's harder in some ways.
"In a deployment it's understandable if I don't talk to my wife for a while," Lowe said. "Here you get just enough time to see each other, but you don't get to talk much. It's almost more challenging because you're there, but not really there."
Drill sergeants work an average of 16 hours a day with no full days off during a basic training cycle, as well as some nights when they are in charge of quarters and during field training exercises. All the long hours makes it especially hard on marriages.
Scott said he read about the high divorce rate of drill sergeants before he got there.
"I thought 'nah, it won't happen,' but after only three months here, I was already getting a divorce," Scott said. "When we were together, me not being home started a lot of arguments."
Being a drill sergeant is not only hard on families; it's physically exhausting and demanding; it's rarely having time for meals; and not to mention the stress of dealing with hundreds of very young adults, many who have never been away from home.
"The mindset of many Soldiers these days often makes it hard," Scott said. "They're often immature and don't always realize what it means to be in the military."
If you sit down with a drill sergeant and have a serious talk about what it takes, you may hear some of these stories. Each has their own tale of what they've given up and how difficult it is.
However, looking back, most never gave away what they really had to sacrifice to be there.
They always appear motivated and disciplined as they set the example for Soldiers around them.
"When everyone is a private you look at your drill sergeant like this mythical person," Lowe said. "They never get tired, they always seem to be squared away. In reality, drill sergeants are still regular people who have to perform at a high level all the time. It's very tiring, but that's the job requirement. The mission is the Soldiers."
At the end of the day, drill sergeants are like every other Soldier. They want to be home to see their families. They get tired, and they want to laugh even though their jobs are stressful.
"I get in character at work, but when I go out that gate I throw my hat in the back seat and don't look at it until I come back to work," Scott said.
Despite all the hardships of being a drill sergeant, with sacrifice also comes reward, and most are grateful for the experience.
"It's tough, but then again, when Soldiers or their families come to me at the end of basic training to shake my hand and thank me for helping them turn their lives around or for teaching them something new about life, that's where it's rewarding," Adams said.
"They say 'tragedy plus time is comedy' right? I look back now and think: 'It's been a good experience for me.' It has certainly made me a better all-around NCO. It's made me more in tune with basic Army skills. I'm glad it's coming to an end, but I am also glad for the experience."
Not only do drill sergeants say they enjoy the reward of seeing civilians become Soldiers, but they also appreciate their fellow drill sergeants.
"We depend on each other a lot as drills sergeants," Franks said. "My battle buddies help me get through."
Coming from many different backgrounds, drill sergeants can teach each other a lot as well.
"I've been able to meet a lot of people from a lot of different MOS's that I never would have interacted with otherwise," Lowe said. "I've met a lot of good people and learned a lot about the Army because of it."
Drill sergeants give up a lot on their journey to be better leaders and to train better Soldiers, but they also have much to gain and, with an open mind, can grow through their experience.
So look back to your drill sergeant, or at any drill sergeant, and appreciate what they've sacrificed, time with families, sleep, marriages, and meals, to complete their mission: the Soldiers.