‘Walk-on Underdog’ takes the cake in the Army Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition

11/21/2018  |  By Capt. Adrienne Bryant
The Griffon
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Courtesy U.S. Army Reserve Command (Drill Sergeant DA Photo)

The Training and Doctrine Command Drill Sergeant of the Year competition is one of the most grueling and physically challenging missions a select group of Soldiers face every year. It is a four-day competition in search of the Army’s best drill sergeant. The DSOY competition tests competitors in over 50 tasks. The tasks range from the Army Physical Fitness Test; weapons qualification; an unknown distance and timed ruck march in temperatures climbing 100 degree plus weather; an obstacle course; various other Soldier and Drill Sergeant skills that are taught at the Drill Sergeant Academy; and a culminating 12-mile ruck march.

For the first time in the history of the competition, Fort Sill, Okla., home of the Fires Center of Excellence and headquarters of the 95th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), hosted the event. 2018 marks the first year this competition will represent both the Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training footprints within initial entry training. The Army selects one competitor; however, prior to 2017, one winner from active duty and one winner from the reserve component won the title respectively.

“I wanted to put on a good show and make sure that I represented the (Army) Reserve in the manner it deserves to be represented and it had me very nervous leading into the competition,” said Sgt. Devin Crawford of Mount Pleasant, Wis.

In a ceremony on August 30, the Army named Crawford as the 2018 Drill Sergeant of the Year. Crawford is a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 3rd of the 334th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 95th TD (IET) out of Neenah, Wis. In his civilian career, Crawford is a police officer for the City of Kenosha in Wisconsin.

Prior to his performance at Fort Sill, Crawford had to compete in similar competitions at the brigade and division level. He won the DSOY competition hosted by his brigade at Fort McCoy, Wis., earlier this year.

Sgt. Devin Crawford practicing drill and ceremony movements during the 2018 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition at Fort Sill, Okla. on Aug. 27-30. Drill and Ceremony was one of 50 tasks tested during the competition. U.S. Army Reserve Photo by Mr. Calvin Reimold, Army Reserve Command.

 

“I was pretty nervous, an E-5, fresh in the Drill Sergeant world, and pretty fresh out of the Drill Sergeant Academy,” explains Crawford, “but I ended up winning that one.”

Though Crawford was new to the Drill Sergeant community, he recently graduated from the Drill Sergeant Academy as the Distinguished Honor Graduate. The coveted title of Distinguished Honor Graduate goes to the Drill Sergeant Candidate with the highest grade point average in the class. This is no easy task. No surprise—Crawford was determined to be best.

Crawford later went on to compete in the 108th Training Command (IET) and 95th TD (IET) DSOY held in Fort Knox, Ky. in April. Out of more than 40 Reserve Soldiers, Crawford placed second in that competition, closely behind Staff. Sgt. Shane Price, 95th TD (IET).

“That competition humbled me,” Crawford explains of his performance in the Fort Knox competition, “at that point in time, I thought my competing days were over as far as DSOY is concerned, but I was told that I’d be an alternate.”

As an alternate, a competitor has to stay ready to compete in the event if something should happen to the top competitor. Crawford was not anticipating anything coming out of his role as an alternate, until one day he got a call that he was going on to compete in the 2018 TRADOC DSOY competition. Price had been accepted to law school and could no longer compete in the event due to schedule conflicts.

“I had prepared myself and stayed current, but I still didn’t expect to get that phone call,” recalls Crawford, “we called me the Underdog Walk-on going into the competition, because I didn’t plan on being there.”

Crawford credits his sponsor and former squad leader, Sgt. 1st Class Cody Brunet, with presenting the opportunity to become a Drill Sergeant. Brunet and Crawford were in the same unit together and deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. Shortly after deployment, Brunet moved on to the 3-334th, to be a Drill Sergeant and Crawford moved into a Military Police unit. The two remained in contact over the years; meanwhile Crawford was unsure what he wanted to do with the next part of his career—even contemplating leaving the Army Reserve. One day, Brunet called Crawford and asked him if he had any interest in becoming a Reserve Drill Sergeant. Crawford said he was willing to give it a try. In a matter of a year, Crawford joined the 3-334th and was a Drill Sergeant.

“Now that I am a Drill Sergeant, it’s just an amazing honor and privilege that I’m able to stand up and say, my job in the military is to take civilians and turn them into Soldiers in a fairly short period of time” details Crawford of what it means to him to be a Drill Sergeant in the Army Reserve.

Sgt. Devin Crawford navigating the confidence course during the 2018 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition at Fort Sill, Okla. on Aug.. 27-30. The confidence course is a series of obstacles designed to test the physical and mental strength of the competitors.

U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Joshua Hugley

Following each night of the competition at Fort Sill, Crawford and Brunet would wargame prior to going to sleep. They would talk about the day’s events and how they thought Crawford performed. They reviewed tasks that had not yet been tested, in anticipation of it being the next day’s event. They also discussed Crawford’s career up to that point and the disbelief of both of them that Crawford had made it to this point.

Moving into the final event, a 12-mile ruck march with full combat gear, sponsors were allowed to march alongside their competitor. Brunet and Crawford began the march discussing the competition and giving their opinions on where each competitor ranked thus far.

“I had myself at about number 3 or 4,” details Crawford about who he thought the top competitors were, “so no conversation during that 12-mile ruck was about what I was going to do or how I would react when they call my name.”

Crawford said he played every scenario through his head; however, no scenario had him winning the whole thing. He felt he represented the Army Reserve well and he was happy with his performance, but there were many individuals that placed ahead of him in certain events. Crawford was the junior ranking competitor in this event and he could remember the moment his name was announced as the winner.

“They already announced the runner up and then had a long dramatic announcement of the 2018 DS of the Year, but I recall them saying ‘Sergeant...,’” says Crawford, “and I was thinking did they omit Staff and just forget that part.”

He remembers looking into the crowd at Brunet and he had the same star-struck look on his face as himself. As he accepted his award, Crawford thanked his fellow competitors for an awesome completion. He thanked his sponsor and leaders throughout his military career. Crawford says he has been reaching out to his friends and co-workers from his career to thank them, but he also credits his foundation to his mother.

“Just coming up, she laid an even bigger foundation as far as perseverance and always working hard—and that carried over to the military,” explained Crawford.

Crawford also credited 5-year-old daughter and his fiancé, Heather Treffert, whom he will be marrying in October. 

Finally, Crawford thanked his sponsor and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Potts, 1st Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. He said Potts had been calling him DSOY, not “Sergeant Crawford” since the first time he competed for the brigade.

“The look on his face when I won, I knew I had done something no one had expected,” said Crawford.

Following all the excitement from winning the DSOY competition, Crawford will be reporting to Fort Eustis, Virginia for a yearlong assignment with the Center for Initial Military Training. The CIMT is responsible for all initial entry training that turns civilians into future Soldiers. Some of his duties will include travelling to help with the standardization and adoption of the new Army Combat Fitness Test; coordinating and facilitating the next year’s DSOY competition; and visiting other military installations to see how basic training is being conducting.

The complete list of drill sergeant contenders includes:

  • Staff Sgt. Jonathan Houston, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
  • Staff Sgt. Carter McSwain, Monterey, Calif.
  • Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Specht, Fort Sam Houston, Texas
  • Staff Sgt. Lyra LebronBrown, Fort Lee, Va.
  • Staff Sgt. Jonathan Roy, 98th Training Division
  • Staff Sgt. Alec Brinkman and Staff Sgt. Tracy Hamilton Jr., both of Fort Jackson, S.C.
  • Staff Sgt. Peter Shull, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
  • Staff Sgt. Michael Hnat, Fort Sill
  • Sgt. Devin Crawford, 95th Training Division
  • Staff Sgt. Keahi Holder, Fort Benning, Ga.

 

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