Competition reinforces gravity of drill sergeant role
June 21, 2010
FORT MONROE, Va. (June 20, 2010)-The 2010 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition brought the top eight basic combat training drill sergeants together to vie for the Army titles from June 14-18 at Fort Eustis and Fort Monroe, Va.
While Staff Sgt. Timothy Sarvis (Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.) and Staff Sgt. Melissa Solomon (108th Reserve Division) were named the 2010 Drill Sergeants of the Year for active and Reserve components, the week showed each participant approaching the competition with the same attitude and motivation required by their day jobs.
"Just another day in the office," said Sarvis.
The Army-level competition had the drill sergeants perform physical and mental tasks, from five-mile road marches while wearing 70 pounds of gear and combatives to counseling new Soldiers and teaching basic drills.
"I had my low moments and I had my highs," said Solomon. "But it's motivating, it's challenging and it's a good self-assessment tool that I'll reflect on in the duration of my time as a drill sergeant."
Basic combat training drill sergeants are responsible for turning new recruits into Soldiers in 10 weeks. They introduce civilian recruits to Army life and culture, teach Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, and serve as mentors to privates. After basic combat training, the new Soldiers will receive specialized training in Advanced Individual Training and One-Station Unit Training before receiving their first unit assignments.
"[The drill sergeant] becomes the mother, the father, the coach, the mentor ... The Soldier that we're producing is the direct result of a drill sergeant," said Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, deputy commanding general for Initial Military Training.
To be a drill sergeant, a noncommissioned officer either volunteers or is selected from the top 10 percent of their career field.
"When you see a drill sergeant, it reminds you of the best of the best," said Staff Sgt. Kyle Drube from the 95th Reserve Training Division. "It's what I strive to be."
Likewise, drill sergeants get to see the fruit of their labor and take pride in not only their hard work, but the hard work of their students.
Sgt. 1st Class Philip Richards III (Fort Benning, Ga.) said the most rewarding part of being a drill sergeant was "when you see your Soldiers doing things like Airborne School and going for Special Forces ... you know you set somebody up for success by instilling the same discipline you would want for you."
"[The most rewarding part about being a drill sergeant] is seeing those volunteers come in on that first day and know absolutely nothing to seeing them graduate and grasp the Army values," said Sarvis. "They're just a better person for knowing that."
However, being a drill sergeant is not without hardships.
"Long hours and not being with family as much ... it's pretty hard," said Sgt. 1st Class Edwin Hernandez, a drill sergeant leader from Fort Jackson, S.C.
"But if you really want to train," said Solomon. "You have to give it your all. But at the end of the cycle, you see a Soldier who you molded and mentored. It's all worth it."
During the competition, the days were just as long, if not longer. Lights out was scheduled at around 10 p.m. and the competitors woke up as early as 3 a.m. to begin road marches, urban orienteering or a battery of other tasks. Since schedules were kept away from the contenders, each task was a surprise.
"I knew I had to teach combatives, but I did not expect to have some guy walk through the door and try to swing at me," said Richards. "But after getting punched in the head, you have to make corrections on somebody's uniform still dizzy. It's hard to prepare for something like that."
Many of the tasks had the competitors dealing with challenges with Soldiers, not just teaching a lesson. Surprise events came in the form of dealing with a suicidal Soldier or a Soldier who didn't want to train. These tasks tested how well the drill sergeants could mentor.
"[Drill sergeants] live the Army ethos," said Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Bruner, senior enlisted adviser for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. "They have to teach the recruits to put the mission first, never accept defeat, never leave a fallen comrade, and the last one really applies-don't ever quit."
The competitors also see the drill sergeant's role expanding to include providing advice and counseling.
"When I came in, we had different tasks ... and we weren't at war," said Higgins. "We share our life stories with our privates, which is something our drill sergeants didn't do. If you get a phone call from home, you could have a bad day. We tell them that we've had those days and how we got over it."
"When something is up, go find that set of ACUs and a drill sergeant hat," he said.
The week also provided professional development for the competitors.
"My leaders felt confident enough in me to select me [to compete] against people with more experience," said Sgt. Scott Sinclair from the 98th Reserve Training Division. "I'm enjoying the camaraderie ... and I'm learning a lot from them."
"I don't get a chance to work with a lot of female drill sergeants, so when [Solomon] and I talk about things, I don't always see the big picture of Army Training Centers," said Richards. "But the more we communicate, I understand more and better than before."
Throughout the week, the competitors lived up to the Drill Sergeant Creed, namely when it came to leading by example and helping each other stay motivated.
"We're the best NCOs, the best drill sergeants in the Army," said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Brady from Fort Knox, Ky. "We're all winners already."
"Even at the low moments, I was able to bounce back and have that resiliency and stay positive. And the other competitors were good at that," said Solomon. "Even though we were competing against each other, we were constantly building each other up and staying positive."