FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Feb. 26, 2015) — When I went through Initial Entry Training I felt somewhat like cattle — just sort of pushed along, hardly in touch with my whereabouts or reason.
I eagerly anticipated the rigors associated with my new infantry job, excited to learn how to defend our country and repel enemy forces. However, I graduated with more of a feeling of disappointment than accomplishment. At 23, I felt like my drill sergeants never actually took the time to teach me how to become a Soldier.
I’m 35 now, and in May I will have completed three years on the trail as a drill sergeant. As I begin to transition back to a patrol cap and ‘the regular Army,’ I am confident that the nearly 2,500 troops I have had the opportunity to coach, teach and mentor departed Fort Jackson with a full tool kit of Soldier knowledge and an example of an engaged Army leader.
My No. 1 goal for each recruit goes beyond Basic Combat Training graduation. I don’t want these Soldiers to serve just their three-year contracts. I want these Soldiers to re-enlist, continue to serve and continue to help shape our Army.
Having been a drill sergeant for nearly 12 cycles, I have come to realize that what makes a non-commissioned officer a good drill sergeant is the person under the “brown round” and behind the coveted badge.
SOLDIERS-IN-TRAINING ARE NOT SOLDIERS YET
As a drill sergeant, you have to realize that it is your job to transition civilians into Soldiers. Many drill sergeants get caught up with the expectation that once a task is taught, the Soldier-in-training is expected to know exactly how to execute that task flawlessly.
Some instructors get frustrated at the trainee’s inability to retain something recently explained. Although the drill sergeant is the expert at warrior tasks and battle drills, as a seasoned NCO he or she must also realize that what seems simple to digest can be complex for Soldiers-in-training. Repetition promotes recognition and retainability.
It is only after thorough training that these civilians become Soldiers. Understand that they are human beings first. Humans make mistakes. To become proficient, it takes time, schooling, trial and error, and patient instructors.
DRILL SERGEANTS ARE HUMAN, TOO
Often, I take my hat off so that the Soldiers-in-training can look at me and see that I am as human as they are. My job is not just barking orders and sending shivers down spines. Sometimes you have to step down to the privates’ level and let them know that there is actually a human being underneath that hat. They should be aware that their drill sergeants also once wore a pair of initial issue boots.
LOSE THE EGO
The drill sergeant is the epitome of the standard, but, we are humans, not machines. Our no-nonsense demeanor and Type-A personalities can sometimes deter a Soldier-in-training from stepping out of his shell. We can actually learn a lot from the trainees. Afford the privates the opportunities to teach us as well. It brings about a sense of belonging and confidence, prepares troops early for future leadership roles and enables thinking.
SKIP THE ‘I’M JUST HERE TO TRAIN’ MENTALITY
After numerous end-of-cycle after action reviews, my Soldiers have told me that they appreciate the small things, like sitting down and eating chow with them in the field or sharing realistic experiences to complement the training support package.
Have an answer to the Soldiers’ questions and also remember to allow them to ask you questions. The trainees yearn for the drill sergeants’ expert advice, sound guidance and lessons learned. Your skill set is valued and well respected.
BE OPEN-MINDED ABOUT DIFFERENCES
Although failure does exist, it is often the preface to success. I am convinced that no one likes to fail. I believe that there are ways to get through to and teach anyone. There’s a door somewhere. You — the drill sergeant — just have to find the right route that leads to that door.
The majority of the Soldiers-in-training have never fired an assault rifle before. Some have never run 2 miles — or even 1 mile — without stopping.
For most troops, this is their first time away from home. Some Soldiers are without a place to call home.
Take interest in what the Soldiers say, who they are and where they are from. This may require the drill sergeant to step out of his or her element, but you would be amazed at how this technique tears down walls and the communication barrier between drill sergeants and Soldiers.
Remove individual biases and stereotypes, and train the warrior spirit brewing inside of the person who willingly volunteered to serve his or her country.
BE MORE THAN JUST A DRILL SERGEANT
Looking back, drill sergeant duty has been the most rewarding job I have had in my Army career. Undoubtedly, drill sergeants are among the best of the best. They are an elite group of Soldiers entrusted and charged with the challenging task of transitioning America’s sons and daughters into Soldiers.
It is without question that the drill sergeant, the standard-bearer, is the epitome of the NCO Corps. However, although the drill sergeant serves in a position of power, he or she is still committed to a profession of arms.
The drill sergeant is not only an instructor, but also a mentor, coach and counselor. More often than not, he or she fulfills the role of a mother- or father-figure, promoting professional development and helping Soldiers pioneer through both personal and professional problems.
Dedicate the time to teach the trainees how to become Soldiers. Remember that leadership presents an opportunity to be a part of something much greater than yourself.