FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Staff Sgt. John Heslin of Fort Benning, Ga. was awarded the title of 2011 Active Duty Drill Sergeant of the Year at a Solomon Center ceremony Friday.

The ceremony culminated a weeklong competition of skill, knowledge and strength for the distinction of Drill Sergeant of the Year.

Staff Sgt. Andrew Palmer was awarded the Reserve component title at the same ceremony. Both drill sergeants will move to TRADOC headquarters in Virginia and serve as advisers on drill sergeant issues.

This year’s was the first competition held at Fort Jackson and the competitors said they felt the events were rigorous.

“I learned a lot about myself. I didn’t think that I could ruck that far with that much weight,” Heslin said. “The marching was the hardest part because we were out there in the heat of the day. You had to keep pushing yourself to the next station.”

The competitors supported each other through each of the challenging events.

“It was mentally and physically tough, definitely a good competition,” Palmer said. “The competitive spirit always kicks in, but we’re all battle buddies and we cheered each other on.”
The competition tested drill sergeants on every aspect of soldiering and leadership. Drill sergeants were required to execute the same training as their Soldiers, such as weapons qualification, land navigation, and obstacles courses.

There were also events during which they demonstrated professional skills by interacting with news media, instructing Soldiers on combatives and completing a board.

It is important for drill sergeants to be experts and professionals so they can prepare Soldiers for the challenges of modern warfare, said TRADOC’s Initial Military Training Command Sgt. Maj. John Calpena.

“Soldiers used to just do what they were told and we could win our Army’s wars,” he said. “Today, things are a bit different. There are Soldiers operating in marketplaces, in neighborhoods, near schools and those Soldiers under fire have to be taught discipline first to make the right decisions while under stress. Drill sergeants help make that happen.”

Heslin said he loved his time training Soldiers and was hesitant to move away from his principle duties in order to compete at the post and Armywide competitions.

“I would have rather stayed on the line training my Soldiers,” Heslin said. “But my leadership picked me and I wanted to do a good job. I wanted to win every time and that’s what happened.”

Heslin said leadership and moral support were key to his success.

“My command kept telling me that I could go to the top and that I could do it. Then in my downtime, I would go home and unwind with my girlfriend and two dogs. It really is important to take advantage of any time off.”

After months of hard work, Heslin says he is ready to fulfill the duties of his new position.
“This is a big responsibility, but I am definitely ready for the challenge.”