FORT SILL, Okla. (May 4, 2017) — Nine drill sergeants from the 434th Field Artillery Brigade competed to become the Fort Sill Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSoY).
After four days of grueling competition, Drill Sergeant (Sgt. 1st Class) James Calfa, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery, was named the 2017 DSoY during a ceremony May 2, at General Vessey Hall here.
“I’m a little shocked. I honestly didn’t think I was going to win,” Calfa said. He said he believed his proficiency in physical training may have set him apart from the competition.
Calfa will move on to the Training and Doctrine Command DSoY competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in September.
It was a very close competition with Calfa winning by one point over the unannounced runner-up, said 434th FA Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Royal Curtis II.
The other competitors were drill sergeants (Sgt. 1st Class) Pavlino Veracruz, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery; (Staff Sgt.) Chi Au, B/1-40th FA; (Staff Sgt.) Hak Tang, E/1-40th FA; (Staff Sgt.) McClellen Humphrey, B/1-79th FA; (Staff Sgt.) Samuel York, E/1-79th; (Staff Sgt.) Jon Schroeder, D/1-31st FA; (Staff Sgt.) Roman Davis, B/95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception); and (Staff Sgt.) Javier Razo, Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
The DSoY works with the 434th FA Brigade commander and command sergeant major as a liaison and advocate for the roughly 320 drill sergeants here, said 2016 DSoY (Staff Sgt.) Dustin Randall.
Randall began planning this year’s competition about three months ago, he said. The brigade held a pre-DSoY competition April 4, to narrow down the pool of competitors.
Events began April 25, at the hand grenade course, Randall said. Competitors were evaluated on performing blocks of instruction, or training modules. A training module is the lesson that a drill sergeant gives to basic combat trainees, such as facing movements.
Evaluators graded the competitors on the training’s proper sequence, and if all training points were covered.
One of the most difficult training modules they were tested on was the stack-and-take arms, where rifles are stowed in a uniform manner to prevent damage, and for easy access should a firefight erupt.
“It consists of 43 sentences,” Au said.
They were also given a written essay test on the topic of Syria, and how the United States should deal with ISIS, Razo said.
“I said we should keep mass troops out of Syria, keep up the airstrikes, and let the local population deal with it,” Razo said.
From there, the drill sergeants ruck marched with packs weighing up to 45 pounds to Contingency Operations Location Murphy for more module testing in 10 events. That afternoon they were tested on the Army Physical Fitness Test at Hell Cat Field.
Day 2 began at 6 a.m. with the Physical Fitness Assessment. Competitors had to complete 20 pull ups, 100 push ups, 100 sit ups, and a 3-mile run, all timed. Then it was another ruck march to Training Area 81, for more module testing, Randall said. Yet another ruck march brought them to the Confidence Obstacle Course where they had to go through 15 events, with such names as the “Tough Nut” and “Dirty Name.”
April 27 consisted of more physical testing as well as rifle range time, module testing, and the Combat Conditioning (obstacle) Course.
The last day, competitors had to appear before a formal board of six brigade command sergeants majors. They were inspected on uniform and grooming standards, then grilled on Army knowledge and drill sergeant-specific training information.
“They threw us a curveball,” Au said. He described how some of the answers they were looking for were so esoteric, and only found buried in Army manuals that it made preparing for the board really difficult. “It was a surprise when they asked those.”
To make their boards a little more challenging, the competitors had a 12-mile road march just before it.
“Most of us were pretty worn out before the board,” Au said.
Schroeder said he chose to compete because the DSoY is a prestigious job where he could help his fellow drill sergeants, and make himself a better noncommissioned officer.
Razo said he competed to challenge himself.
“One of the things I learned from it was that whoever wins the competition deserves it because it is so tough,” Razo said, before the award ceremony.
What did Au gain from the competition?
“I got some really good experience, and I got to see the best drill sergeants in this brigade,” he said. “It was worth it.”
DRILL SERGEANT LEGACY
During the ceremony, Col. Lee Overby, 434th FA Brigade commander, said that about 17,500 Soldiers attend BCT here annually; and that being a drill sergeant is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding jobs in the Army.
“Each drill sergeant is responsible for coaching, counseling, and mentoring hundreds, if not thousands, of trainees,” the colonel said. “What drill sergeants do with them will impact them for the rest of their lives.”
Overby also acknowledged the accomplishments of Randall the past year.
“Alongside the HHS cadre, he’s refined and improved our monthly drill sergeant certification program … he’s also led our drill sergeant orientation course, and he’s served as my subject matter expert in the brigade on Basic Combat Training POI (program of instruction),” Overby said.
Reflecting back on his year as DSoY, Randall said it was an eye-opening experience working as a staff sergeant at brigade level operations.
“It’s given me insight on how brigade operations work and how stuff gets delegated down to the battalion level and then down to the battery level, and it comes back up the tube,” he said.
Randall, who finished as runner-up in the TRADOC DSoY competition last year, will now help Calfa prepare for the competition. In September, Randall will transfer to Fort Carson, Colo.