By U.S. ArmyAugust 24, 2017
FORT SILL, Okla. (Aug. 24, 2017) -- Editor's note: Several drill sergeants in C Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery talked about the art and craft of transforming trainees into Soldiers. They graduated Class No. 44-17 on July 28, and are gearing up for another group of trainees. This is the second of a two-part series.
Drill sergeants have been called the backbone of the Army and the finest noncommissioned officers in the service, and are often seen as the roughest, toughest, meanest warriors in the eyes of their trainees.
However, two of the biggest battles they face in their careers are transforming raw civilians into professional Soldiers, and finding time to be a spouse and parent. With 18-hour days, little time off, and a two- to three-year commitment, it can be just as rough as a deployment.
Drill Sgt. (Sgt. 1st Class) David Wells, who headed 3rd Platoon, C/1-79th FA, said two years as a drill sergeant seems like four. "If I can make it through two years as drill sergeant, I can make it through anything."
Wells was voted Drill Sergeant of the Cycle by the cadre he serves with, his command team, and the trainees. An 11-year veteran, he completed his seventh training cycle, and has one more to go before he "turns in the hat" in November. As a 13D Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) fire direction specialist, he anticipates his next duty will return him to that line of work.
He barely sees his wife and 3-year-old son. "The hours are real hard on a family," he said. "This is probably worse than a deployment because your family is there but you don't get to see them. When you wake up, they're asleep, and when you go home, they're asleep."
Even so, there are rewards. "In fire direction I have 11 Soldiers," he said. "Here I have up to 240. Just to see how fast they grow in the limited time we have with them is pretty amazing."
He said this cycle was a little more difficult because the Split Option Soldiers tend to be younger, even as young as 17. "They're a lot tougher to train," he said. "A lot of them don't pay as much attention to detail. They're very immature."
Toward the end of training, he said most of them have "tremendous vast improvements" in their maturity. "We do a pretty good job instilling that discipline and making them realize how serious the Army is."
Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Christopher Wilson des-cribed a distinctive technique used by drill sergeants called the "shark attack." That's when several barking drill sergeants descend in unison on a hapless trainee.
"You kinda smell the blood in the water," he said, with a little smile. "You got one drill sergeant yelling, and everybody hears it and helps that drill sergeant out." He said it's an effective attitude adjuster.
"Somebody that's undisciplined and they need a little bit of extra attention, it helps break them down a little bit, so that they get the point they're not the big dog in the dog park anymore."
Wilson is beginning his fourth trainee cycle. He said he had considered volunteering to become a drill sergeant thanks to a platoon sergeant in Alaska, who had been a drill sergeant. "He told me it was going to be the hardest assignment that I ever had, but the most rewarding. Based off what he told me, I was getting ready to volunteer, but then I was selected."
He said his experience in this role will set him up to be a future platoon sergeant, which is his goal as an 11B infantryman.
Wilson agrees it's tough on family life, and he has to work at turning off the drill sergeant mode at home with his wife, 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
"I walk in the door, that's the first thing they do is run up and give me a big hug and a kiss." Sometimes when they misbehave, he said "the drill sergeant voice comes out." He has a little routine to set his mood right when he leaves work.
"First thing I do when I get in my truck to head home is I take off the hat, put it in the back seat, and enjoy the five minute drive home. Try to unwind and just let it go."
He said learning to be an effective leader comes from many sources. "You take everything you've learned from your past leadership, whether good, bad, indifferent, take what you like, keep it, use it. You take what you don't like and say 'This is something that I will never do.' You just put everything in your tool bag and you try to use the appropriate tools at the appropriate time. Make sure you don't treat everything as if it's a nail, because then you become the hammer, and you're not going to get the desired effect that you want. Each Soldier learns different, they react differently."
"Being able to mold that clay into the Soldier they've become. You always find a little bit of pride in that."
This was the first training cycle for Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Aerial Andrews, who assisted in 3rd Platoon. Her sister, Drill Sgt. (Sgt. 1st Class) Cassandra Kiel also serves in E Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery, which is housed in the same building. Kiel has four cycles under her hat, and arrived here a year before her sister.
They don't get to hang out much except for when they're at work, especially if they both have charge of quarters at the same time.
Andrews said her 9-year-old son understands why he doesn't see his mother very often. She knows she needs to metaphorically leave the hat at work when she comes home.
"When I get out of the car I try to turn it off, and then I go into mommy mode."
Apparently that is one of her modes as drill sergeant, too. She was voted the nicest drill sergeant in her platoon by the trainees. "They consider me the mama." She laughs, glad she wasn't considered the meanest (yes, there is a category for that) and it shows they've taken to heart what she's taught them.
Kiel added, "They said 'nice' but they meant 'caring.'"
The two agree that being a drill sergeant is a tough job. "It's demanding," said Andrews. "It's exciting some days seeing trainees accomplish tasks they've never been able to accomplish before."
Kiel said the most rewarding time for her is family day and graduation. "The families come and thank you for everything that you've done. They tell you what their kid wrote, or their loved ones, their spouses, in their letters."
Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Joshua Barnum of 4th Platoon just finished his last full cycle and will help with another before he ships to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, to work in his 91B mechanic specialty. This will be his second tour there, and he's looking forward to more family time with his wife and daughters, ages 7 and 4.
As with most drill sergeants, he was "selected," meaning he was recommended by a superior for the job. Another word for it might be "voluntold." Why don't more volunteer?
"The commitment they know you're going to have to make, doing 18 hour days, they know it's a hard, tough schedule to follow for two years," answered Barnum.
He said being a drill sergeant at home doesn't play well. "Just try to be calm," he said. "Try to be patient and when the wife asks you to help out, you just help out. In the long run, you start to be more calm when you come home, and you can start separating your whole attitude from being a drill sergeant to being a father and a husband."
Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) John Michael Deserio IV said his family has sacrificed so much he hopes his next duty will be in Hawaii so they can have a vacation on white sandy beaches for three years. His wife and sons ages 7 years and 19 months rarely see him.
"When I get home I pass out while I'm eating dinner, I'm so tired. My wife has to wake me up and remind me to finish. And then I fall asleep on the couch, or I make it to the bedroom. She sets my alarm on the phone."
He's at the barracks before the trainees awake, and stays until they go to bed. "My days are normally 18 hours, sometimes 20," he said, and he sees the baby only every few days. "So that's pretty hard."
He said putting away the hat when he goes home was hard at first. "You live two lives. When I get home I try to wind down, be a father."
His extensive tattoos kept him from being a drill sergeant when he was selected in 2014, shortly after he returned from deployment to Afghanistan. But when the policy changed, he volunteered. He told his wife this was the "last check-the-block that I really wanted to do in the Army." She told him to go for it.
He said, "She's my rock. When I came back (from deployment) she literally kept me sane and kept me alive. If I didn't have her here I don't know what I would do. She takes care of everything for me. She's like a single mom. She takes care of both of my boys. She cooks dinner for me. She lets me concentrate 100 percent on my job here."
Of course, that means he doesn't get to see them that much, a situation he says "It's just like I'm deployed, but I live in my house. I'm never home, my kids don't see me, she (wife) doesn't see me."
"Why don't you ever go home?" Trainees sing that line from a cadence about their drill sergeants.
The reason is clear. The trainees need them, their discipline, their oversight, their protection, and their leadership.
The trainees are a second family for the drill sergeants, one they train to protect other families, including in a sense -- their own.