FORT SILL, Okla. -- Every summer, as thousands of high school students enlist in the Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve there is a surge in Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill. From April to September, every battery is filled to capacity with about 250 trainees.
To handle the summer surge, the 434th Field Artillery Brigade brings on board Army Reserve Component drill sergeants to augment its active-duty drill sergeant force, which performs the BCT mission.
"They're fantastic, they're professionals, they fall right in," said Capt. Taylor Kilmer, C Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery commander, whose battery has three Reserve drill sergeants in its current training cycle. "They all know what to do, they all know the rules and regulations, and are extremely appreciated help."
Kilmer said he had a full house of 242 trainees, but after the surge is over will average about 200 trainees per battery.
There will be 142 Reserve drill sergeants at the 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery, and 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery for the surge serving various lengths fulfilling their annual Reserve training requirements, said Bill Kaplan, 434th Field Artillery Brigade plans officer. Their orders are for 15, 29, or 73 days, which is one full training cycle in the 10-week BCT.
Reserve Drill Sgt. (Sgt. 1st Class) John Owens, whose home unit is 1st Battalion, 330th Infantry in Richmond, Indiana, is here for 73 days with E Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery. Owens performs summer drill sergeant duty every year, he said. The 1st Battalion, 330th Infantry is a training unit, so it receives all updates to BCT and drill sergeant standards.
"When we hit the ground (at BCT) we're not blindsided by regulations and changes because we've been going over the manuals at our units," said Owens, who is a psychiatrist in Dayton, Ohio, in his civilian job.
Reserve Drill Sgt. (Sgt. 1st Class) Jarod Moss, from 2nd Battalion, 354th Regiment in Grand Prairie, Texas, is attached to 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery for 29 days. He's been performing the Reserve drill sergeant mission for about 12 years, having previously worked at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Moss and Owens said they both stay physically fit throughout the year because they know they will be coming here.
"I stay in shape because I know when I get here I'm going to be going full days," said Moss, a history teacher at Waxachie (Texas) High School.
Fitness is important because the Reserve drill sergeants tend to be a little older than their active-duty counterparts, said Owens, age 32. Moss is 36.
"Our pride will kick in, and we will get into a mindset of: 'I'm not going to let an 18-year (trainee) with fresh legs beat me on a run making me look bad,'" said Owens.
The active-duty drill sergeants welcomed the Reserve Soldiers with open arms, Owens said. "They brought us in, and we're treated equally -- as we should be."
Active-duty Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Atiya Blackwell, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery, works with four Reserve drill sergeants in the current training cycle at her battery. She has been a drill sergeant for 20 months, or as drill sergeant duty is called "on the trail."
Ideally, 12 drill sergeants are assigned to one battery with three drill sergeants per platoon, she said. One platoon is about 65 trainees. "The Reserve drill sergeants have been a tremendous help with the max fill because the days are a lot longer trying to push 250 trainees through a training day," she said.
Reserve drill sergeants who arrive here are ready to work, she said. When Owens came on board, he told her drill and ceremonies was one of his strong points.
"They (Reserve Soldiers) come here with their strengths and it helps our unit, our platoon dynamic," she said.
The Reserve drill sergeants are expected to do everything the active-duty drill sergeants do, Blackwell said.
"They pull CQ (charge of quarters), they march the trainees, they're on the line when we're at the firing range," she said. "It's been my experience that they are all of a high caliber."
Moss said Reserve drill sergeants provide a boost to accomplish the Army mission.
"At the end of the day, we're all drill sergeants at Fort Sill with a mission to do," he said. "It can only be accomplished if we all work together."
This is the first time Reserve Drill Sgt. (Sgt. 1st Class) Sean Powell has performed his annual training at Fort Sill. He's here for 29 days.
"We're not replacing any of the drill sergeants that are here, we're fulfilling what training they already have planned," said Powell, a police officer with the Miami (Ohio) Township Police Department.
This is the fifth time Reserve Drill Sgt. (Sgt. 1st Class) William Bowie has worked a summer surge. He's also trained recruits at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He said Fort Sill, unlike some other basic combat training centers, requires Reserve Soldiers to be annually certified as drill sergeants.
"It's a post regulation, it's a lot stricter here," said Bowie, who is an electrician in Champaign, Illinois, and yes, a relative of Jim Bowie, the Alamo hero.
As a Reserve Soldier, Bowie said he volunteered to become a drill sergeant in 2013. He attended the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, just like active-duty Soldiers do to become drill sergeants.
Since some of the drill sergeants are here for only a couple weeks, that is explained to the trainees, Blackwell said.
"We take the additional time to explain that they will be getting new drill sergeants during their training cycle, and that they just have to be flexible," she said. "It helps prepare them for the actual mission of the Army because you're going to have Soldiers coming in and out of a unit."
Owens said he likes performing the Reserve drill sergeant mission.
"I enjoy training Soldiers, especially training civilians to become full-blown Soldiers," said Owens, who was in the regular Army for 10 years. "The only reason I got out was to further my education."
Powell said, like all drill sergeants, he wants to train recruits to become successful Soldiers.
"You hope that you left enough of an impression, especially as a Reserve Soldier who's coming in for a short period of time, with these kids that they will carry for the rest of their careers," said Powell, a former Ranger.