Marking Time: Drill sergeant's impact is long lasting
May 22, 2008
The following is a letter from a Soldier who attended basic training at Fort Jackson in 1969 to his drill sergeant 38 years later. The drill sergeant, Sgt. Maj. Leo Mons, passed away Feb. 7. The letter has not been edited and is exactly as it was written.
Dear Sgt. Mons,
I have been meaning to write to you for a long time. Enclosed you will find a photograph taken in August or September of 1969 when you were my Drill Sergeant at Fort Jackson. If you are not the SSGT Mons in this photo, then I apologize for sending this to the wrong man. If you are related to SSGT Mons then I ask that you forward this letter to him.
Every time I talk about my experience in the army, your name comes up and I tell all who will listen about the respect that I and the rest of my platoon had for you as a soldier and leader of men. I consider myself fortunate in having known you and lucky to have had you as my drill sergeant. I am the fellow in front with the acting SGT stripes on the blue helmet. You chose me to be Platoon Guide for our training cycle.
Because of your leadership, we were the best platoon in our training cycle, winning every award possible except one. There was a trainee from another platoon who beat us out for fastest runner. We came in second every week in inspections. We were able to achieve all of this because we tired hard to make you proud of us.
In all the weeks of basic training, you got angry at us once and had us do 10 pushups. We were so sorry for having disappointed you that you never had to correct us again.
I especially enjoyed the talks I had with you when the training day was over. I remember we would talk of how lucky we were to have the women we had in our lives. You would speak so fondly of your wife and I of my girlfriend Edda.
When our training cycle was over, you took us out to the "boonies" where we had a celebration that included much alcohol. On the way back you had a small accident when you bumped the corner of the barracks with your jeep. It was on that occasion that we presented you with a shotgun that we all chipped in to buy as a thank you gift for treating us so well.
I remember the time I got "busted" by the first sergeant when we had our lights on after hours because we were cleaning our barracks. He took my rank away, but you had a talk with him and I was reinstated as Platoon Guide. I did appreciate you sticking up for me and the rest of the men for trying to have the best barracks in the Company.
By your recommendation, I was enrolled in the Leadership Preparation Course at Fort Sam Houston prior to training as a Medic. I graduated second in that school and went on to have charge of a class of 110 men during our medical training. I eventually ended up at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital in Long Bihn in Vietnam where I worked on a surgical and medical intensive ward. All in all, I had a successful time in the service and by the time I received an "early out" in 1971, I achieved the rank of Spec5.
In no small measure I owe much of my success to the foundation that was laid down by you during basic training. I am proud of the time I spent serving my country and would not exchange it for anything. You instilled that pride in all of us. I tell my friends that you are the kind of leader that men would follow into combat. That willingness to put ones life in harms way has nothing to do with patriotism or cause. It has to do with the love and respect that soldiers feel for their comrades in arms. I want you to know that you had that love and respect from the men you trained and I am very proud to have known you.
Your name came up during a conversation this past weekend and the friend I was speaking with said that I should make the effort to communicate with you. I went on the Internet and looked up your name in South Carolina. I figured you might have chosen to retire there.
I hope that life has been good to you in the past 37 plus years since we've spoken. I would be so happy to hear from you and find out how you are doing. I want to express a long overdue thank you for all you had done for us. I salute you SSGT Mons.