FORT SILL, Okla., Sept. 1, 2016 — The process of giving drill sergeants the skills they need to teach basic combat trainees has undergone a face-lift this past year, and it’s making for more knowledgeable cadre capable of imparting skills more professionally to new Soldiers.
Drill sergeants (Staff Sgts.) Franco Peralta and Dustin Randall, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSoY) for 2015 and 2016 respectively, are helping to implement the new focus on standardizing the certification process at the 434th Field Artillery Brigade level rather than at the battalion level.
Typically certification standards have varied from one battalion to another. An article in the NCO Journal, reprinted in the Aug. 11 issue of the Fort Sill Tribune, explained the changes that may soon be implemented Army-wide.
Randall said he believes Training and Doctrine Command is “using bits and pieces” of the program developed at Fort Sill and managed through 434th FA Brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Support (HHS) Battery.
“We definitely shared our program with the other Army training centers,” said Randall, “and we passed product that we made, score cards, the CONOPS (concept of operations), stuff like that for them to take out what they want until it is standardized across the board. They say Fort Sill has developed a good program and kind of set the standard.”
Being DSoY comes with an added set of responsibilities, all of which help foster better training. “The number one thing is being principal adviser to brigade commander and brigade sergeant major,” said Randall. “Looking at all the training events being conducted and executed, speaking with the drill sergeants, finding out what issues they have with the training and what things could be done better, fine tuning the training here at Fort Sill, trying to make it better for the cadre and the Soldiers as well. Giving the commander good solid advice, good feedback from the field, so he can make good command decisions.”
Peralta says the more stringent certification requirements gives drill sergeants a greater pride in their job. “They feel more confident teaching basic combat skills to the Soldiers,” he said.
Noncommissioned officers may be pulled from any military occupational specialty (MOS) to join the drill sergeant cadre, and may not have used warrior skills as much as, say, an infantryman. “If you’re in finance or supply you’re not always going to be performing functions check on an M4 or M16A2, not going to be doing malfunctions on an M203, you’re not going to be performing those tasks on a daily basis,” said Randall.
Command Sgt. Major Earven Boyd, 95th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception), said such skills are perishable, meaning if they’re not done regularly, the skills erode. “You have to have muscle memory,” he said of the tasks being learned.
Randall said, “Using HHS as facilitators and evaluators, they are very professional about taking extra time to spend with the drill sergeants to get them trained up. HHS is really the developing force of this program.”
Since the brigade-led program began in February, more than 300 drill sergeants have been certified, with the testing being done every weekend at first, and now once a month. They need to be re-certified annually, and if they get even one “no-go” they don’t pass. However, they get two tries during a testing period to re-do any task they fail. If successful, they are certified. If unsuccessful, they re-test at a later date.
A dozen new drill sergeants began the second week of the Drill Sergeant Orientation Course on Aug. 22, learning 27 different tasks “by the book.” The book being the Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks, which instructs the proper way to evaluate a casualty, orient a map using a Lensatic compass, load and unload an M249 machine gun, correct malfunctions on an M4 carbine, protect from chemical and biological contamination, employ hand grenades, and other tasks.
The drill sergeants were tested on Aug. 27, at Contingency Operations Location Murphy to determine whether they would become certified. These drill sergeants were joined by others who needed to re-test on one or more tasks, or who couldn’t make the last test. Four versions of the scorecard told them which 15 tasks they would be tested on.
Master Sgt. Michael Gersper, noncommissioned officer in charge of the training division, told them before the testing began, “The smallest mistake on the performance measures will result in a ‘no-go.’ On the other hand, if you do everything as that book says to do, you’re going to get a ‘go.’ We’re out here for the same reason, which is our professional development and the mission to train these IET (Initial Entry Training) Soldiers. This is do-able. It’s not easy.”
Randall said the typical pass-fail rate is 70-30 on the first go-round, but eventually about 95 percent of the drill sergeants do pass certification.
On test day, the drill sergeants review the manual, practice the tasks with their battle buddies, take a deep breath, and enter the testing area. The tasks are performed with the evaluator looking on. The steps can be numerous, and must be done in the right order. At the end, there’s only one thing they want to hear. And they want to hear it fifteen times.
“Drill sergeant, you’re a go.”