By Cheryl RodewigApril 3, 2009
When SSG Michael Johnston volunteered to become a drill sergeant, it was his way of "completing the cycle," he said. "When I came in, I had a really squared away drill sergeant, Drill Sergeant Sheare, and my goal was to be just like him," Johnston said. "He was that one guy who was with us all the time. I don't ever remember him going home. I don't think I ever saw him mess up. He was on the ball, physically fit, mentally tough and he knew exactly how to train the Soldiers."
Now, Johnston wants to mirror his former drill sergeant."It's my turn to instill those standards he put into me, the ways of discipline, the ways he motivated me," he said. "I want to give that back to somebody else exactly the way he gave it to me."
Becoming Drill Sergeant of the Year for Fort Benning is just part of that. He completed several tasks last week, competing against three other top drill sergeants on Sand Hill. After earning the highest score, he was named Drill Sergeant of the Year.
Johnston said the news was a surprise, but he's proud to represent his unit, C Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, and Fort Benning at the TRADOC-level competition in June. Johnston's company commander, CPT Jordan Garrett, said hearing Johnston won was no surprise at all.
"He's without a doubt my best drill sergeant - one of those guys you can give a task to and you don't have to check up on him; the job will get done," Garrett said.
Johnston competed in the brigade-level competition last year and earned the highest score against drill sergeants with much more experience, Garrett said. He also holds his Soldiers to the same high standards he holds himself, making sure they leave here confident and equipped for their units.
SFC Billy Way, C Co. senior drill sergeant, summed it up in one word: leadership. "Leading by example, getting on the ground with the privates, showing what right looks like, just being there," Way said. "Your troops ... see you as the Army when they first get here. Whatever you possess and show them, that's what they're going to get out of the Army."
That's why Johnston puts in so much time with his platoon, working late and sometimes coming in on days off, Way said. "He goes above and beyond whatever he's assigned to do, dedicates all his time to the Soldiers," he said. "He cares about the Soldiers."
Drill sergeants in 2nd Bn., 58th Inf. Regt., train nearly 4,000 Soldiers every year. "It's a huge influence," said Way, who has been a drill sergeant for two and a half years. "Their job is tremendous. They take a civilian from the street and transform him into a Soldier."
Watching that transformation is amazing, Johnston said. "That's the most thrilling part of the job: the training," he said. "You'll see it in their faces when something finally clicks. It motivates you to move onto teaching harder tasks. It's rewarding because you know that it's going to pay off with your battle buddies out in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you send this private to your old squad or platoon, he's going to be effective in that group."
Johnston's time as a drill sergeant winds down this fall, when he hopes to add Special Forces to his list of qualifications alongside Airborne, Ranger, Air Assault and others.
Johnston said he hopes he has created a lasting effect in the troops who have passed under his leadership."You want that phone call or e-mail someday down the road that says, 'Drill Sergeant, that task you taught me in basic training, that made the difference. I'm here today because of that,'" he said. "That's the ultimate legacy you're trying to leave."