Fort Benning boasts Army’s top drill sergeant, again
June 30, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga., June 30, 2011 -- For the second time in three years, a Fort Benning drill sergeant is the Army’s best.
Staff Sgt. John Heslin of the 192nd Infantry Brigade’s D Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, is the 2011 Army Drill Sergeant of the Year after a week-long competition that tested the top representatives from active-duty and Reserve commands on warrior tasks, battle drills, physical fitness, weapons and other events built around their ability to instruct young Soldiers.
The competition place June 11-18, 2011, at Fort Jackson, S.C.
“I never would’ve thought a year ago that I’d go that far,” Heslin said. “It’s unbelievable, really; it’s still sinking in. It’s a pretty awesome feeling to represent Fort Benning and bring it home.”
That last Benning Drill Sergeant of the Year, or DSOY, was named in 2009, when Staff Sgt. Michael Johnston of C Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, also won in the active-duty category. Johnston was the first recipient from Benning in more than 20 years.
Heslin beat out three other drill sergeants representing Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Jackson for this year’s title. All their journeys began in a series of boards starting at the battalion level.
“He’s made everyone very proud of his performance at each level of this competition,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Feger, commander of 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment. “Staff Sergeant Heslin is driven daily to be the best noncommissioned officer and drill sergeant he can be."
"He works extremely hard to be physically fit, tactically and technically competent, and a professional example for everyone to emulate," said Feger. "He inspires those around him to work harder to produce the best-trained Soldiers for our great Army."
“You just have to spend a few minutes with Drill Sergeant Heslin to know he’s a winner and you want him on your team, leading our young men and women in training and into combat,” he said.
The candidates were tested and graded on dozens of events at the Army competition. Orienteering, land navigation, written tests and essays were among other key tasks.
Heslin thought his physical conditioning separated him from the pack, he said. The drill sergeants took the Army Physical Readiness Test and Army Combat Readiness Test back-to-back on the same day.
“Everybody had their strengths and weaknesses. I feel where I won it was during the PT aspect. That’s what I pride myself in,” he said. Sleep deprivation became a factor, and they had to deal with road marches practically everywhere they went.
“The most stressful part was not knowing what was coming next, or how far we were going on a road march, because you couldn’t prepare yourself,” he said. “They gave no information on any of the tasks. You found out when you got there, and the grader read what you were gonna be doing.”
Heslin, 28, of New Market, Md., joined the Army in July 2004 and has twice deployed to Iraq. He became a drill sergeant on Sand Hill just over a year ago.
“His personal drive, initiative and professionalism make him an outstanding trainer and mentor of our new Soldiers, and role model for his peers,” said Col. Terry McKenrick, the 192nd Infantry Brigade commander. “We’re proud of his accomplishments and excited about his opportunity to have a positive influence on new Soldiers and drill sergeants across the Army over the next year.”
In August, Heslin gets reassigned to Fort Eustis, Va., where he’ll become a direct adviser to top Training and Doctrine Command leaders and provide his ground-level experience and insight into Army initial entry training.
Feger said the battalion has already begun the process of grooming another drill sergeant for next year’s title hunt.
“The success is infectious in building a positive culture of winning in the organization,” he said. “We’re challenging (Heslin’s) peers to rise to higher levels of performance.”
And Heslin’s advice?
“If anyone is thinking about going out for it, they should start preparing in advance,” he said. “You really have to prepare your mind and body right and know your job. You should get in the mind frame that you’re going to road march a lot and go through some sleep deprivation. They have to be mentally ready for that.”
Capt. Terrance Green, Heslin’s company commander, said Heslin’s focus really set him apart from other drill sergeants.
“His will to win is what makes him different,” Green said. “He maintained an unbelievable drive, focus and self-determination. He studied hard and worked hard for it. Going to the different boards, he developed an attitude of, ‘I can’t lose.’"
“He did great things with this unit. We’re sad to see him go, but where he’s headed is great for his career and the Army in general,” Green said.