By Thomas Brading, Army News ServiceOctober 4, 2019
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Being "under the hat" means more than just breaking someone down -- it's about the process of building them up. Today's "drill sergeant" is someone who coaches, counsels, mentors, and transforms civilians into combat-ready Soldiers, says a drill sergeant instructor.
For many, whether you've left basic training last month or 20 years ago, seeing a drill sergeant can still grab your attention.
Some may think of the constant professional, who dons a "brown round" campaign hat and is a beacon of excellence for all initial-entry training. Others may think of the ones depicted in Hollywood films -- the stereotypical hothead pouncing from the shadows of Army posts, with veins popping from their necks as they scream at new recruits.
The intensity commonly attributed to a drill sergeant's temper is "just a switch you turn on," joked Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Holliday, drill sergeant leader at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy. But, there's no "on or off switch" for exemplifying the Warrior Ethos and living by the Army values, he added.
Whether he's at the gas station or on base at Fort Jackson, or grocery shopping with his family, Holliday understands when the general public "sees the hat," they see the Army's gatekeeper. "They see a professional with overall command presence."
Holliday, a native of Bardstown, Kentucky, started his Army career as a reservist in the Blue Grass State. He was originally part of the 475th Transportation Detachment as an 88M, motor transportation operator. That road led him on two deployments, to Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2010.
Wanting to make the Army a full-time career, Holliday applied for, and was accepted into, the Active Guard Reserve program, a federal program that offers full-time jobs in part-time services, such as the Army Reserve.
After he spoke with friends who were drill sergeants, Holliday liked what he heard and volunteered to become a candidate in 2014. Shortly after, he was off to the academy at Fort Jackson to earn his own campaign hat.
"The drill sergeant leaders were everything I thought they'd be," he said, regarding his time as a candidate. "They were subject-matter experts in everything they talked to us about. They were well-prepared, non-commissioned officers who knew how to lead their peers to become drill sergeants themselves."
After graduation in 2015, Holliday earned his drill sergeant badge and went on to become an instructor at the CONUS Replacement Center at Fort Bliss, Texas. There, he prepared individuals and small groups of Soldiers, contractors, and government civilians for upcoming deployments.
"I quickly learned how important, and overwhelming, it was to be a subject-matter expert in everything," he said. "But, [as an instructor,] it's good to always refresh yourself on what you're teaching, such as first aid, because things always change."
In an ever-adapting Army, Holliday has been on the frontlines of those changes for years. But one constant that doesn't change, he said, is what the hat and badge represent -- an expert in all warrior tasks and battle drills.
"If a trainee asks you something, you have to always be ready," he said. "Because they have no knowledge other than you to base anything off of. You have to be the Soldier's Soldier, at all times."
After his stint at Fort Bliss, Holliday returned to the Drill Sergeant Academy, this time as an instructor. Today, with more than four years under his hat, he's been at the academy longer than "just about" anyone, he said.
Stepping back into the school, Holliday felt a heavy weight on his shoulders. He could see the words "This we'll defend" etched into the dorm building, facing the drill pad. He knew the gravity of the phrase -- it's the Army's official motto -- and it's also on the identification badge worn by every drill sergeant since 1958.
"Drill sergeant candidates look at us for who a drill sergeant is [supposed to be]," he said. "There's no 'off days' in this environment, you have to be your best at all times."
Today, he's a Drill Sergeant Leader at the school. His job handles "the bullets and beans" of his platoon, he joked. In short, Holliday ensures drill sergeant leaders have everything needed to accomplish their mission of training candidates.
The academy's curriculum mirrors Basic Combat Training, week by week, in a similar environment to help selected candidates "get in the mindset" of BCT, he said. The candidates live like trainees, down to wearing water canteen belts, marching to and from places, and sleeping in bunks.
"Our training environment brings [candidates] back to basics," Holliday said. "Some Soldiers tend to get more relaxed in the regular Army, and lose some disciplines such as drill, standing in position of attention, or going to parade rest when talking to a senior non-commissioned officer."
After the academy, candidates are entrusted with forging the Army's newest Soldiers.
"The NCOs who leave here learn that they're not training Soldiers anymore, they're training civilians to become Soldiers," Holliday said, adding that "it's not always easy."
The transition from civilian to Soldier has its share of "hard cases," he said. "Sometimes they're in it for the money, the school, or they just didn't have any other options. When those cases come along, and you're able to inspire them, so by the end of BCT they're 'all Army' and that's all they want to be -- Army. That's the most rewarding part of being a drill sergeant.
"If a [trainee] is not responding how the Army wants them to, a good drill sergeant knows when it's time use a different method of training."
Being a drill sergeant, he said, isn't always like the movies or the funny videos people post online.
"Nobody posts videos of those moments when a drill sergeant, who's been unable to help a trainee qualify for their weapon gets through to them and teaches them everything they need to know about rifle marksmanship," he said.
People don't see those countless moments of drill sergeants, he added, when they coach, counsel, and mentor Soldiers at the beginning of their Army journey.
(For more information on the Drill Sergeant Academy, contact your chain of command or review Army Regulation 615-200 and Army Training and Doctrine Command Regulation 350-16 to see if you're eligible.)