By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneAugust 31, 2018
FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Aug. 31, 2018) -- These are the times that try men's souls, Thomas Paine used to say, and 11 contenders in the running for Army Drill Sergeant of the Year had their souls fried -- er, tried -- in the fiery furnace of an Oklahoma August this week.
This was the first time ever that the Training and Doctrine Command level of competition has taken place on Fort Sill.
Sill Drill Sergeant of the Year (Staff Sgt.) Michael Hnat bounced back from a brush with heat cramps after lunch Aug. 27, returning to the field as unscathed as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
"For the next couple of days it's going to be a lot of physical things along with mental challenging things and a formal board (exam). Things like that," Hnat told reporters beforehand.
The winner of the postwide competition in April, Hnat said he felt "very honored, definitely, to represent Fort Sill and the local community."
The event began Aug. 26, with a "meet and greet" for the competing drill sergeants to get acquainted with each other and the higher-ranking officials and VIPs on hand for the competition. On Aug. 27, they did the Army Physical Fitness Test, qualified with their M-4 carbines at a weapons range, and went on a ruck march carrying approximately 40 pounds.
Hnat admitted the ruck march was probably the hardest thing so far, "and this heat and everything like that." The ambient temperature was 95, but the humidity ratcheted the heat index up to 103.
"Definitely winning" was what Hnat said he hoped to achieve, "but even if I don't win, I'll definitely learn something. I've already learned so much just these couple of days. Meeting new people and networking, against some other people from the Army in general."
While serving as adviser to the command team of 434th Field Artillery Brigade, Hnat also worked on physical training and did lots of studying to get himself pumped up for the competition. The physical part included ruck marches, runs, weightlifting, and functional fitness. For the knowledge portion he boned up on anything to do with the drill sergeant program.
There was no time to scope out his competition, so he just tried to get to know them a little better.
"Most definitely," he replied when asked if he had a home turf advantage here. "It feels pretty good to know where everything's going to be."
The person in charge of running the competition is 2017 Army Drill Sergeant of the Year (Staff Sgt.) Chad Hickey, and he was likewise on his home turf when the competition for that year took place at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
One of the competitors here is Drill Sergeant (Sgt.) Devin Crawford of Mount Pleasant, Wis., who's in a drill sergeant unit, 3rd of the 334th, for the Army Reserve 95th Training Division in Nenah, Wis.
This was his first visit to Fort Sill, where the 95th has its headquarters in the Armed Forces Reserve Center.
"I drove by it. That's the first time I've seen it. I haven't been inside of it, though," Crawford said. "I'm excited to go and actually walk through and see it when this competition's over."
He reached the Army-level competition by competing at Fort Knox, Ky., for the 95th Division and the 108th Training Command. Prior to that, he competed at Fort McCoy, Wis. It's cooler than Oklahoma, by far.
"It definitely was a new challenge today, with it being over 100 degrees on that first ruck march," Crawford said. "I went through a Camelbak already."
He had another surprise while qualifying on the M-4 carbine. He's used to shooting in the prone, unsupported, and kneeling positions, but for the first time he had to qualify in a standing position.
Center of Initial Military Training (CIMT) Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Mitchell said the competition tests contenders' grit, the same thing the Army is doing with its new basic combat training program of instruction.
Mitchell said the Armywide Drill Sergeant of the Year competition will have a few "mystery events." One on Aug. 27 was going to be in the swimming pool. Another would have them performing the new Army Combat Fitness Test now in development, which has six parts and a potential score of 600 points. There's also a 12-mile ruck march still to come.
"We want to pick the No. 1 drill sergeant. What we're looking for is 'who is the best of the best?'" Mitchell said. "We already know the top one percent can be drill sergeants, and we want to pick that individual (who will) represent the Army They will be the face of IMT as well as BCT (basic combat training) and TRADOC for the next year."
The DSoY winner will be reassigned to CIMT and TRADOC at Fort Eustis, Va.
The list of drill sergeant contenders includes Staff Sgt. Jonathan Houston, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Staff Sgt. Carter McSwain, Monterey, Calif.; Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Specht, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Staff Sgt. Lyra LebronBrown, Fort Lee, Va.; Staff Sgt. Jonathan Roy, 98th Training Division; Staff Sgt. Alec Brinkman and Staff Sgt. Tracy Hamilton Jr., both of Fort Jackson, S.C.; Staff Sgt. Peter Shull, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Staff Sgt. Michael Hnat, Fort Sill; Sgt. Devin Crawford, 95th Training Division, and Staff Sgt. Keahi Holder, Fort Benning, Ga.