Earning the title of drill sergeant is an accomplishment not all Soldiers can achieve. However, Army Reservist, Staff Sgt. Briana Popp, did just that and more.
After completing the challenging nine-week drill sergeant course at The Drill Sergeant Academy, Popp was presented her drill sergeant badge and campaign hat alongside 90 others noncommissioned officers during a graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson, S.C., March 8, 2017. Popp stood out among her peers when all the scores were tallied, and snagged two additional titles: Iron Female and Distinguished Honor Graduate.
The Iron Female and Iron Male titles are given to the drill sergeant candidates with the highest scores on the Army Physical Fitness Test, which includes two minutes of push-ups, two-minutes of sit-ups and a timed two-mile run.
All candidates, regardless of age, are graded to the 17- to 21-year-old age group (male and female) standards. A max score is 100 points in each category, and for the age group the candidates are tested in, a perfect score requires males (females) to complete 71 (42) push-ups, 78 (78) sit-ups and a two-mile run in no longer that 13 (15:36) minutes.
Popp, an Army Reserve Soldier with 3-518th, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), took the Iron Female title with a score of 299 out of 300 on her APFT by doing 53 push-ups, 83 sit-ups and a two-mile run in 15:42 minutes.
The Distinguished Honor Graduate title goes to the drill sergeant candidate with the highest grade point average in the class. This coveted title goes beyond the GPA though as it includes several other requirements, such as: pass all academic and testable material with a first-time passing score; earn a minimum of 90 percent on the written exam; score a minimum of 90 points in each APFT category; display impeccable leadership abilities; and receive no infractions. With a list of difficult requirements, The Distinguished Honor Graduate title is not easy to achieve.
Popp was so immersed in doing her best in the fast-paced course that she didn’t seriously consider that The Distinguished Honor Graduate title was a realistic option for her personally.
“I didn’t think it was true at first. It kind of surprised me.”
The title didn’t surprise her husband though, but it wasn’t just for reasons of love and pride. He knew his wife was well prepared for the course because he is a drill sergeant himself. Staff Sgt. Victor James Popp, an active duty drill sergeant with Echo Company, 2-19 Infantry Battalion, 198th Infantry Brigade, at Fort Benning, said he knew his wife would do well at the drill sergeant school, and even exceed his own performance.
“I wish I could say I did the same, but she’s twice the Soldier I am.”
However, outdoing others was not Popp’s goal exactly. She just wanted to be and do her best because that is what she learned from her drill sergeant.
“My drill sergeant was always squared away. His [physical training] was on point. He was always the picture perfect poster child of a drill sergeant,” said Popp.
This example of excellence and leadership was also magnified by her drill sergeant’s message, said Popp.
“My drill sergeant used to say, ‘It takes the best to train the best,’ and that always stuck in my head.” And with that, everything was set into motion for Popp. She decided she wanted to become a drill sergeant herself, and do her very best while achieving that goal.
As many Army Reservists, Popp had to prepare herself for military school all while working a full-time civilian job. But the Columbus, Ga., resident said her civilian job as a surgical technician at Jack Houston Memorial Hospital unknowingly readied her for the hardest part of the drill sergeant course-working with so many other strong personalities.
“Sometimes [at the hospital], I work with difficult people who I’ve had to handle in different ways, so it’s definitely helped me deal with my peers and other drill sergeants since I’ve been here.”
Strong personalities are expected, if not required, for drill sergeant candidates, but there can be a downside. When you get a lot of dynamic people together, it can be challenging, said Popp.
“When you come to The Drill Sergeant Academy, you have a lot of very strong leaders who are used to leading Soldiers. And it’s hard to come together and bring those strong leaders to work together.”
Working with both active duty and Reserve drill sergeant candidates in the course, Popp finessed her communication skills. And after learning the Army’s best drill sergeant practices, she said she’d take her new military skills into her civilian job at the hospital, like a true Citizen-Soldier.
“The drill sergeant course built my confidence as a leader, a person and a surgical tech. It has given me the extra confidence to stand my ground the next time I need to.”
Confidence is a hard thing for many people, including Popp, but she recommends that any noncommissioned officer considering becoming a drill sergeant take the risk.
“If you find yourself wanting to teach and improve the fighting force, it is definitely something you should do.”
Of course, preparation is key. The nine-week drill sergeant course should not be taken lightly, and Soldiers should come prepared.
“You always have to bring your A game,” said Popp.
But after weeks of hard work, and maybe some self-doubt, deserving candidates will earn the revered title of drill sergeant and don their campaign hat and drill sergeant badge. And putting on those iconic items makes all those challenging weeks “really mean something,” said Popp.
“The hat and the badge have been the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Interested in Becoming a Drill Sergeant?
For noncommissioned officers interested in taking on the challenging and rewarding role of U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeant, please contact Sgt. 1st Class Dorothy Sherrin at Dorothy.firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-475-2307 (cell) or 706-626-0443 (office).
The 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training) has units in: Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Connecticut, California, and Puerto Rico.