This We'll Defend: Path to becoming drill sergeant offers challenges, rewards
May 9, 2012
(Editor's Note: This is the first installment of a two-part series on what it takes to be a drill sergeant.)
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- They are the "Men in Black" of the military profession.
Masters of all combat skills, yet often behind the scenes of the military stage, drill sergeants have one mission: to transform civilian volunteers into battle-ready Soldiers.
"My priority is to take someone's child, that they've raised … and then turn them into a Soldier capable of the completing the Army's mission," said Staff Sgt. Russell Cash, Company A, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Chemical Brigade. "It starts with instilling discipline."
Drill sergeants get 10 weeks to take newly enlisted trainees and get them physically, emotionally and mentally adapted to the Army way of life, during Basic Combat Training.
It isn't easy, but sergeants like Cash say they wouldn't have it any other way.
"Being a drill sergeant is one the hardest things I've ever done in my military career because of the patience and the effort you have to put in," said Cash, who was selected as the Brigade Drill Sergeant of the 2nd Quarter in 2012. "When they get to you, they don't know anything (about the Army)."
However, "by the time they leave, they have a lot knowledge and a lot of pride in themselves that they didn't have before," he said. "Once they do graduate and you come across the stage and see everyone, you do feel a sense of pride that you just trained them into a Soldier."
BECOMING A DRILL SERGEANT
Before drill sergeants ever don the famed brimmed hat, they must first be selected for the job. Eligible Soldiers may either volunteer or be involuntarily selected for the drill sergeant program.
To be eligible, Soldiers must be physically fit, have demonstrated leadership ability, have no record of disciplinary action, be in a rank of E-5 (sergeant) or above, and meet the standard on an entire list of other criteria, found in AR 614-200.
Cash, who has been a drill sergeant for eight months now, was selected to be a drill sergeant while he was deployed as an infantryman.
"I got an email when I was in Iraq saying 'You're on orders to be a drill sergeant,'" Cash said. He added that, had he not been selected, he would have volunteered.
Another Fort Leonard Wood drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Alan Forester, did volunteer for the position while serving as a squad leader in an engineer unit.
"I basically just mentioned it to my brigade sergeant major at the time and he said, 'Oh, you want to be a drill sergeant?' and I came on drill sergeant orders pretty quick after that," said Forester, who has been a drill sergeant with Company C, 31st Engineer Battalion, 1st Engineer Brigade, for 22 months.
"I figured it would be a good career decision, and not just for promotions, but you could learn a lot with the responsibilities that you have here and the different tasks that you're actually assigned to do," he said.
Once selected, applicants are sent to Drill Sergeant School for 10 weeks to train in the same activities as those in Basic Training -- drill and ceremony, basic rifle marksmanship, obstacle courses, field training exercises and leadership -- but this time, the students are training each other.
"It was the same thing as Basic Training, without the total control. They're not trying to break us down, they're just trying to teach us what steps we're supposed to go through," Forester said.
"It's way harder to teach your peers than it is to teach a private who doesn't know anything at all," he added.
After completing school, drill sergeants are assigned to a unit for two years. While some drill sergeants teach BCT cycles for 10 weeks at a time, others teach One-Station Unit Training, or OSUT, which includes back-to-back Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training.
Forester is assigned to an Engineer OSUT company with 16-week cycles. "Not only am I teaching civilians how to be Soldiers, but I'm also teaching them how to be engineers as well," he said.
Sgt. 1st Class James Metts, Company A, 795th Military Police Battalion, 14th MP Brigade, is a senior drill sergeant in an MP OSUT company. His cycles last 19 weeks, with an extended AIT. "As MPs we have the garrison -- the law enforcement side -- and then we also have to teach them the war mission, so it's a little longer to teach them two different missions," he said.
WHY BECOME A DRILL SERGEANT?
The reasons why Soldiers become drill sergeants are as diverse as the Soldiers themselves.
Cash is proud to be a master of basic combat skills.
"It basically shows the Army that you're eligible to teach any MOS skill level 1 task," he said.
For Forester, it's the chance to build a reputation for excellence.
"It's prestigious," Forester said. "Whenever you wear this badge and you go back to FORSCOM (U.S. Army Forces Command) and the regular Army, they look at you for certain duties and certain tasks that most regular noncommissioned officers aren't as equipped to handle."
It is also a consideration when going before promotion boards in the future. "Most sergeant majors that I've been under are drill sergeant-qualified, and most first sergeants as well," Forester said.
However, he said the most rewarding part of being a drill sergeant is hearing from peers that the Soldiers who come out of his unit are well prepared.
"I have battle buddies in FORSCOM units that receive my Soldiers," he said. "They call me, they let me know: 'Hey, you sent me a good product.' It's a proud moment to know that I'm actually sending a good Soldier to my battle buddies and to the force. I think that's the best part of the job -- knowing that I'm helping the Army out."
Metts, now nearing the end of his two-year commitment, said he was glad that he volunteered to be a drill sergeant because of the difference he sees in Soldiers.
"I was hesitant at first … because I didn't know what it entailed, but after being here, I've seen the Soldiers change," Metts said. "Hearing from the NCOs that we sent them to … hearing the (Soldiers) that my company's producing are the more disciplined ones that they're getting -- snapping to parade rest, saying 'yes' or 'no' instead of 'yeah' and stuff like that -- that's the real reward, when you see them succeed."
(Editor's Note: Next week, look for Part 2: A day in the life of a drill sergeant.)