Some people can just read a manual, then build a rocket with that knowledge.

But most of us learn faster and retain more when we encounter new information in a first hand, experiential fashion -- which is exactly the style drill sergeants employ to instruct the Army's newest Soldiers.

So a competition among drill sergeants - testing their knowledge of Army regulations, weapons, strategies and soldiering -- is like asking a fish how well it breathes underwater. Much of the test material is so ingrained, it's second nature to drill sergeants.

The Training and Doctrine Command's drill sergeant of the year competition, conducted at Fort Monroe, Va., wrapped up June. Seven drill sergeants, five from the active Army component and two from the reserve component, competed among themselves.

Fort Knox's Staff Sgt. Joshua Marshall won first place among the reserve drill sergeants. When he began the competition process, Marshall was assigned to the 3 rd Brigade, 95th Reserve Division (Institutional Training), but is now mobilized with the Company F, 2nd battalion, 46th Infantry.

Marshall normally works at the Bluegrass Army Depot in Richmond, Ky. He was mobilized on one-year orders and will report to Fort Monroe, Va. later this month to begin his DSOY duties.

Marshall began competing in the 95th Division, but at each level, he said the competition got tougher. The TRADOC contest was spread over five days and included 65 events: weapons qualification, written essays, drills on Army Regulation 350-6 -- which he describes as the bible for drill sergeants -urban orienteering, obstacle courses, road marches, day and night navigation courses, grenade throwing, lanes on unexploded ordinance, improved explosive devices, and combatives.

"It was the hardest competition I've ever seen in my life," Marshall admitted. "I hope I never have to do it again."

There was a lot of memory work, Marshall explained, and it was difficult to study and work full time as a drill sergeant at Fort Knox. Why would anyone volunteer for such a grueling competition'

"I've been told it makes your career - you're golden for future promotions," claimed Marshall. "But it makes you a better drill sergeant. There were seven drill sergeants in the competition and they are the best drill sergeants in the Army. I learned a lot from them. I've only done three cycles myself and they had lots to share. They weren't stingy in sharing their expertise."

With eight years under his Army belt, Marshall was in a good place to look back at his past as well as forward. He compared the peacetime Army in which he enlisted with the Army at war that he serves now.

"There's a big difference from past training," he said. "Now there's a lot more combat-oriented training and more weapons immersion. We didn't touch a weapon until our 3rd or 4th week of training; now (Soldiers-in-training) get a weapon on their first day and keep it the entire cycle. They are used to it and they are safer with it.

"Now everyone is certified in combat life saving, which is excellent. It's good training. And the paintball training is great - it's so much better and more realistic than the old (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) - which didn't work half the time. "

Marshall's first military occupational specialty was as a paralegal specialist and he has an associate degree in criminal justice. He'd like to pursue a bachelor's degree, but is torn between studying law, political science, and criminal justice. But regardless of which field he decides to pursue, he knows he wants to continue his service in the Army.

Marshall's supervisor is Command Sgt. Major Sammy Alley at the 95th Division and he said it's harder for reserve drill sergeants to compete on even footing, because they have to commit a lot of personal time to study and practice.

"The most important trait that Staff Sgt. Marshall has is his commitment to the Soldiers being trained. He is the example of the Army values," Alley explained. "This is the first person that our young men and women see coming into the Army today and Staff Sgt. Marshall -- as well as all drill sergeants -- must take this responsibility very seriously. "

Page last updated Thu July 23rd, 2009 at 16:19