FORT MONROE, Va. - (TRADOC News Service, 18 June 2008) Seven of the Army's best training NCO's from across the nation began their quest for the 2008 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year title here today.

The competitors include five active duty and two U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants. In alphabetical order, they are: Staff Sgt. Ronald Barnes, representing the 98th Division (USAR); Staff Sgt. Terrance Gassop, representing Fort Benning, Ga.; Staff Sgt. Leslie Ledding, representing Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Sgt. 1st Class Michael Noland, representing the 95th Division (USAR); Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Ratliff Jr., representing Fort Sill, Okla.; Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Siler III, representing Fort Knox, Ky.; and Staff Sgt. Herbert Thompson IV, representing Fort Jackson, S.C. One winner will be selected from each service component.

The four-day competition began with the Army Physical Fitness Test. As the week continues, the candidates also will be tested on their knowledge of various Soldiering tasks and how they teach those skills and Warrior Tasks to new trainees. The final step in the selection process is an appearance before a board of senior command sergeants major to answer questions on leadership and training.

Culminating the competition is the 2008 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Awards Ceremony, scheduled for 9 a.m., June 20 at Fort Monroe. None of the candidates will know who the winner is until the announcement is made at that event. The reviewing officer for the ceremony will be Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt, Deputy Commanding General and Chief of Staff for U.S. Army TRADOC.

The winning active Army Drill Sergeant of the Year receives the Stephen Ailes Award initiated in 1969. Ailes was Secretary of the Army from 1964-'65 and was instrumental in originating the first Drill Sergeant School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. The Army Reserve winner receives the Ralph Haines Jr. Award. Haines was commander of the Continental Army Command (the forerunner of TRADOC) from 1970-72.

The annual DSOY competition has been hosted by Headquarters, U.S. Army TRADOC for many years. Command officials describe drill sergeants as "top-quality, professional noncommissioned officers (NCOs) from virtually all branches of the Army." Their role is to turn citizens into Soldiers. During every recruit's initial entry training period, these NCOs set the tone for an entire military career.

Each year, TRADOC trains more than 400,000 Soldiers. The drill sergeant plays a critical role in the success of this training and, therefore, has a direct impact on the readiness of the entire Army.

Currently, five TRADOC installations have drill sergeants; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Fort Knox, Ky.; and Fort Jackson, S.C. Reserve component drill sergeants represent training divisions throughout the U.S.

Additional biographical information about the 2008 DSOY competitors is available at 2008/index.htm.