By Jeff Crawley, Fort SillMarch 14, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Drill Sergeant (Sgt. 1st Class) Orrin Thompson wanted to be the best.
He was already selected as 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery's top drill sergeant. Now he was competing to become the Fort Sill Drill Sergeant of the Year.
"The 434th [Field Artillery Brigade] is a start, but I want to win All Army," said Thompson, who has been a drill sergeant a little more than one year.
Thompson was one of six drill sergeants from the 434th FA who competed for the Fort Sill DSoY title March 4-8 here. The weeklong competition evaluated them on more than 50 tasks ranging from training recruits to essay exams to marksmanship to numerous ruck marches.
In the end, Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) William Schmidt, F Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st FA, was selected as the winner March 11 during a ceremony at Thurman Hall.
"I'm surprised. I knew it was an extremly close competition, so it could have been any one (drill sergeant) up here, said Schmidt, age 27, of Clara City, Minn. Although a runner-up was selected, that drill sergeant will be announced later.
Also competing were: Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Christopher Croslin, 95th Reserve Training Division; Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Lander Dandy, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th FA; Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Ebony Howze, E Battery, 1st Battalion 31st FA; and Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Polly Schmidt (no relation to William Schmidt), C Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th FA.
Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) William Schmidt will go on to the Training and Doctrine Command DSoY competition April 27 through May 3, at Fort Jackson, S.C., home of the drill sergeant school. The TRADOC winner will be the Army's drill sergeant of the year, and will become part of the TRADOC staff.
The role of the Fort Sill DSoY is to act as the senior drill sergeant adviser to the brigade commander and brigade command sergeant major, said Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Victor Marquez, 2012 Fort Sill DSoY. The DSoY opens lines of communication, observes and evaluates training, and makes recommendations to the command. There are 312 drill sergeants at Fort Sill.
Marquez designed this year's competition which was run by noncommissioned officers from the 434th FA Brigade and its Detachment with support from Fort Sill brigades. He said he designed the competition to prepare the winner for the next level.
"I tried to mirror the TRADOC competition that I went through so our drill sergeant will kind of know what to expect," he said.
The competition kicked off with each drill sergeant creating a program with the theme "Serving with Pride" for the staff and basic combat training Soldiers at the 434th FA, said Croslin, a Reserve Soldier activated to compete. His Reserve unit is 3rd Battalion, 378th Training Regiment, Norman, Okla. A couple weeks ago in his civilian job as a lineman, he was repairing downed power lines in the panhandle after an ice storm.
Throughout the week, the drill sergeants were evaluated in such areas as land navigation; weapons qualification with an M4 carbine rifle and M203 grenade launcher; familiarity with the M249 machine gun and AT4 anti-tank weapon; drill and ceremonies execution; the Army Physical Fitness Test; and essay exams.
During Day 3 at the McKenzie Hill Complex range, Dandy said the competition was going good for him.
"I've done well in weapons, and some of the modules that we've had to recite from memory," said Dandy, who has been a drill sergeant for 1½ years. He said he competed for the challenge, and that because the title of DSoY is highly regarded.
"Ruck up!" Marquez said to the drill sergeants numerous times during the competition. The drill sergeants would ruck march to a new location and then find out their next test.
"Everything's a surprise. They don't know what's coming next," Marquez said.
Training modules were a big part of the competition. The modules taught recruits how to perform a task, which is something drill sergeants do every day.
Evaluator Staff Sgt. William Billet, C Company, 434th FA Detachment, graded how well the drill sergeants instructed a squad of privates on room-clearing procedures.
"I'm checking to see if they covered all the steps properly, stated the principles and explained the role of each Soldier," Billet said.
And, the competitors never knew when a training module would be thrown at them. In the middle of the physical training test, competitors were told their next task was to teach marching movements to recruits.
"We were in the groove of doing PT, then it's hold on, we've got to teach them to forward march," Thompson said. "It kind of throws you off track."
One of the things the graders looked for was to see if the drill sergeant was constantly pushing him or herself, Marquez said.
"It's like we tell the Soldiers (recruits), it doesn't matter if you're down a little, but you always have to push yourself," he said.
On Day 4 at the Sgt. 1st Class Forrest Pedon Confidence Obstacle Course, Howze said: "It has been a challenge physically and mentally, but it's worth it." She said she competed to become a better leader, a better NCO and to really know what her job entails.
One of the last events was an appearance in dress uniform before a board to answer questions about the role of a drill sergeant and about the Army. That may have seemed a logical end to a grueling week, however, there was one more training module -- stack-and-take arms.
"It is the longest and hardest module to teach," Marquez said. "Their faces went: 'Really? Another task?'"
The competition ended very close, Marquez said. Only five points separated the winner from the runner up.
During the award ceremony, Col. Mike Dvoracek, and Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Estep, 434th FA Brigade commander and brigade CSM respectively, presented each of the drill sergeants with the Army Achievement Medal.
Dvoracek said the competitors displayed the high standards and ideals that one would expect from a Soldier who wears the drill sergeant campaign hat or Australian bush hat and the drill sergeant badge.
"Each of you is shining example of the most professional group of noncommissioned officers that it has been my privilege to work with -- the drill sergeants."