Basic Combat Training has changed little in the 100 years since Fort Jackson became a stalwart of Army training. While some things change, the professionalism of drill sergeants in the reception battalion hasn't.
A drill sergeant is the first thing recruits stepping off the bus at Fort Jackson for training
see when they arrive at the 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception).
The shock soon-to-be Soldiers initially face after stepping off the bus is the initial catalyst for transforming them from civilians into Soldiers.
The drill sergeants of the 120th make this happen every day.
The 120th processes more than 1,200 recruits on a weekly basis leading to a lot of stress and long hours for its cadre.
"This company runs 24-hour operations," said Capt. Alex Zayas, the commander of Delta Company, which initially processes the incoming troops. "My drill sergeants, who are on the operations side are working from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., do express it can be a heavy weight on them."
Seven companies comprise the battalion with each having its own distinct mission. For instance, one holds an airborne preparation course while another is in charge of ensuring Soldiers in Training are in the physical shape necessary to complete basic training.
Drill sergeants must have spent time in the Basic Combat Training units and go through an assessment process before they are assigned to the 120th. Those non-commissioned officers working in the Fitness Training Unit go through an additional selection process.
"Sometimes you get selected, sometimes you volunteer," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Tunison, a drill sergeant with Delta Company. "I know there were a lot of people I work with that had been selected. It is based on the time they had on the trail. If they were at the two-year mark (2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment), which was notorious for identifying those individuals and asking them if they would like to go to work at the 120th.
"There are also volunteers who thought they saw something that needed to be fixed," he added. "For instance, when I was in the BCT, I saw things over here that I thought I could change."
Recently Fort Jackson began holding selection boards for drill sergeants to with at the 120th chaired by Command Sgt. Maj. Lamont Christian, the post's senior enlisted leader.
Within the 120th itself the jobs of drill sergeants differ, there are those who work strictly to process Soldiers through and those who work to prepare trainees for shipment.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Gordon, a drill sergeant who had been a BCT company for a little more than a year, the change from training companies to reception was a shock.I thought it would be easy," he said echoing the sentiment of most drill sergeants in the replacement battalion who didn't realize all that goes in to preparing the troops for training.
While the "hours are better" so he can "spend time with his Family," he doesn't get the same
amount of time to help the troops.
As he watched SITs receive boots, Gordon explained the amount of time to mentor the new Soldiers
is a lot less than he's used to.
"If you are first to fill you get four days at most" to teach and mentor the troops, he said. "You don't
get a lot of time with them. When you are first to fill you get the most Soldiers and the least amount of time with them."
While the drill sergeants at 120th would love to have more time preparing and mentoring new Soldiers time just doesn't allow it.
"When I take a look at what is going on here as opposed to the BCT side; in BCT repetition takes place every 10 weeks," Tunison said. "For some drill sergeants that's hard. We take that and tone it down so that it's like that every day. If I sit down and process 100 -- 200 Soldiers that day, the next day I am starting all over again from scratch. In the BCT I know that I won't have to do that for another 10 weeks -- so it's actually easier on the mind. Every day when you come here it's a hard day."
In the 120th, the shipping companies rotate which takes the first recruits.
"Everyone at the BCT says if you go to 120th you're not going to work," Gordon said. "We actually
do a lot more than I thought we did when I was in a BCT company."
For drill sergeants, like Tunison, seeing the differences between the civilians who first enter and
the troop shipping to their BCT companies is one of the most rewarding experiences.
"A lot of the drill sergeants I talk to when they come over here say, 'Look this is an easy job.' You should try coming in at night when the Soldiers are filing-in in the hundreds," he said.
While at the BCT they don't get to see what the Soldiers were like when they first stepped off the
bus in 120th, he said.
"I used to blame 120th when I was a drill at BCT that the Soldiers came undisciplined and that they didn't teach them anything at the 120th prior to arrival at BCT," he added. "Since I've been here and
see how much time we get with the Soldiers, I realized the short period of time the 120th has with the Soldier (really changes them). If I would have seen what I've seen with Soldiers just coming off the bus and talking to us -- it kind of blows your mind … If you ever see the Soldiers come back through for whatever issue you say, 'I remember how sloppy you were."
The short period of time new Soldiers spend in the 120th makes the drill sergeants keep their game
faces on at all times.
"In BCT you have that two-week gap of red phase where you are that mean drill sergeant and instilling discipline in the Soldiers, but when you are here you are trying to get that discipline real fast," Sgt. 1st Class Clayton Hughes, a drill sergeant at the 120th.