2nd Battalion, 415th Regiment holds Best Drill Sergeant Competition

06/08/2010  |  1st Lt. Brian Cracchiola 95th Training Division (IET)
The Griffon
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Staff Sgt. Richard DeAnda briefs Brig. Gen. Roger Duff, commanding general, 95th Training Division (IET) on the hand grenade station. Photo by 1st Lt. Brian Cracchiola, 95th Training Division (IET).

Initially it sounded like an easy enough tasking; plan, prepare, and host a battalion level competition to determine the 2nd Battalion, 415th Regiments best drill sergeant.  Like most taskings, it came with its own unique mix of challenges and constraints.

Lt. Col. Brian Young, battalion commander, 2/415, wanted “a tough and challenging competition that forced every competitor to push hard and learn something about him or herself.” Because the event would take place during the battalion’s semi-annual collective training FTX (Field Training Exercise) at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif. the event had to be: self contained, last no longer than one day, be all inclusive (test fitness, warrior skills, attention to detail, knowledge and clearly determine the top three competitors).

Our task was to challenge the Drills and pick the best. We challenged not just their physical toughness, but their mental and emotional toughness as well.

With that guidance, 1st Lt. Brian Cracchiola and 1st Sgt. James Burke of Charlie Company, 2/415, established a plan and briefed the battalion command team, but kept all planning and logistics information to a few select personnel. The whole plan was kept secret to the very end and was crucial to the success of the competition.

Twelve competitors were selected to represent their individual companies at the event. The first day started early with a Army Physical Fitness Test at 0500 in the morning. Upon completion of the APFT the competitors were given a chance to eat chow and gather their field gear before reporting back to the event OIC (Officer in Charge). The competitors were told to ensure their rucksacks weighed a minimum of 35 pounds.

As the drill sergeants weighed their rucks the OIC began to put the training plan into effect. All competitors were the told to surrender their personal cell phones, watches and any type of Global Positioning System (GPS). This was done on orders to keep the participants from pinpointing their exact location and how long each event was taking. The drill sergeants then loaded into waiting vehicles to be transported to the training site.  Seeing as they had just finished the APFT, the contenders were surprised and thankful to be getting off easy by being driven to the training area. This assumption was their first mistake!

After a short drive the vehicles pulled to the side of the road at a predetermined location and the OIC gathered the drill sergeant competitors and briefed them on their first task.

Each drill sergeant was given a map and a list of coordinates. They were told to plot their route as quickly as possible and then move out. In keeping with the spirit of the competition the drill sergeants were not allowed to use protractors on their maps; they were forced to depend on their map reading skills and plot their grids by hand. The route plotted was well over eight miles in length and the participants were told the event would be timed. Again, adding to the confusion, the actual time limit was not given so the competitors were unsure what was expected of them.

One hour and four miles into the march, the event non-commissioned officer in charge was positioned on the side of the road near an empty clearing, ready to brief the next event. As the physically exhausted drill sergeants ran, jogged, or marched to the clearing the NCOIC quickly steered the competitors to an area where field tables set up, each with pads of paper, pens and pencils.

At this station the contestants would author a 500 word essay on what being a drill sergeant meant to each of them.  Dripping with sweat and absolutely flabbergasted, some of the contenders sat for several minutes, trying to gather their thoughts. A road march and an essay, this wasn’t at all what they expected.

After completing the essay the drill sergeants were given grids and told to land navigate to a series of stations with tasks designed specifically for drill sergeants.

First stop was the first aid station where competitors came upon a wounded comrade with a moulage wound on his leg. The drill sergeants were tasked with assessing the casualty and administering the proper level of first aid as quickly as possible.

Photo by 1st Lt. Brian Cracchiola, 95th Training Division (IET).

At the First Aid Station competitors came upon a wounded Soldier and were evaluated on their combat life saving skills.

After testing their first aid skills the competitors tested their knowledge of weapons mastery. The drill sergeants were shown a pile of parts from assorted weapons (M-249, M-16, M-9) all mixed together. Competitors were tasked with reassembly and function testing the weapons again for time.

The drill sergeants then moved on to the hand grenade identification and employment station. Competitors were shown a display board and had to identify the use of as many of the different grenades as possible. They were then told to employ five dummy grenades from both the prone and the kneeling at a scored target as fast and as accurately as possible.

Finally, the drill sergeants came to a inspection station and had three Soldiers to inspect; one each in ACU’s, ACU with rifleman kit, and one Soldier in dress blues. Upon completion the participants were told to stand down and informed that the competition was over. For the high scorers, however, the real the completion had just begun.

The competitors then loaded back into the vehicles for the ride back to main post area; congratulating one another and thankful to be done. Upon arriving at the post gymnasium, the competitors were surprised to find the entire battalion seated in the bleachers. This added to their belief that the completion was indeed over. But that would be way too easy, and as the host company’s motto goes “100% and then some that’s all we expect.”

The field of twelve competitors was narrowed to the top six scorers. As the six stood nervously in front of their collected peers, their names were put into a hat and randomly drawn. This would determine who would face who in combatives.

The battalion cheered on their favorites drill sergeants. Brig. Gen. Roger Duff, commanding general, 95th Training Division (IET) was surprised by a last second arm bar pulled off by Drill Cpl. David Bitanga, to win his bout.  At the conclusion of the three matches, the battalion was fired up from the combatives competition, and openly confused to see one more event taking place. But the NCOIC assured the contestants that the event was going exactly as planned.

The competitors were excused to the locker room to change uniforms, and the gymnasium was quickly transformed for a formal board appearance for the three remaining competitors. The audience sat silently as the competitors were grilled by the battalion Command Sgt. Maj. and 1st Sergeants on a wide ranging selection of topics.

In the end, the finalists were determined by the battalions’ senior NCOs’. After the final votes were counted, first place was awarded to Staff Sgt. Jamel Ellison, second place went to Cpl. David Bitanga, and 3rd place was awarded to Sgt. Mark Racher.

1st Sgt James Burke, event NCOIC, said “Our task was to challenge the Drills, and pick the best. Not the most physically fit. So we challenged not just their physical toughness, but their mental and emotional toughness as well.”

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