Senior Drill Sergeant Leader Passes Out Wisdom for Drill Sergeant Candidates

08/13/2019  |  By Maj. Michelle Lunato 98th Training Division
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Becoming a U.S. Army drill sergeant is no easy task. It requires just as much mental fortitude as it does physical.

The career-changing course at the Drill Sergeant Academy is an intense nine weeks that covers a multitude of training. 

“Wearing this hat, you cannot afford a bad day. There is no such thing as a bad day for us. You cannot just wake up and say, I am not feeling it.”
— U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class David Rodriquez, a Senior Drill Sergeant Leader at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy located in Fort Jackson, South Carolina

A drill sergeant candidate must not only show mastery on a variety of Warrior Tasks, but they must also prove their ability to convert civilians into Soldiers, said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class David Rodriquez, a Senior Drill Sergeant Leader at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy located in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. “We kind of bring them back to the basics and teach them. And after we’ve taught them, then we evaluate them on teaching. We are not really just evaluating them on their knowledge, we are also evaluating them on their ability to teach someone who knows nothing about what we do in the Army.”​

It may sound simple enough, but Rodriquez said reviewing those basic Soldier skills can be challenging for some seasoned noncommissioned officers. “The biggest drawback to anyone coming here, is that they are so used to being out there in the Army and maybe have been doing things the way that they’ve been taught, or just how they’ve been doing things for a while, and we are going to go back and take it to the book and what it states in regulation. Most have a hard time breaking those bad habits and not humbling themselves and just changing the way they do things.”

Over the years, regulations and tactics have changed, progressing with the times. So what a noncommissioned officer has always done may not be the standard anymore. This is why the drill sergeant candidates relearn the basics, everything from physical fitness training to rifle marksmanship to drill and ceremony.

“Everything they need to know on how to be a Soldier, we are going to teach them,” said the SDSL. This relearning of the standards, or education on the new standards, is the critical base to the rest of the course because after the candidates are shown the standards, they are taught how to instruct civilians on those standards. Therefore, the ability to absorb the basics, to the current standards, is key for all candidates to succeed, explained Rodriquez. “The biggest thing they could come with is, come humble. Come ready to receive information.”

To prepare for that, the Senior Drill Sergeant Leader advises all candidates coming to the Academy to do their homework prior to showing up at the schoolhouse.

“Come prepared. If you come here and want to be successful...You know, I tell every class that we get, if you put it on, if you wear it, you do it, read the regulation before you come out here and do it because things have changed. It’s been awhile since people have done some of the things we ask them to do, and the best way to set yourself up for success is to go ahead and dig into those regulations. Read them before you come out here. Don’t just assume what you have been doing is correct, it might not be. Read the regulations. Study. Know the standards to the T.”

Of course with candidates being required to know 40 different drill sergeant modules, studying can seem overwhelming. Rodriquez advises starting with the first set of modules: position of attention, rest positions at the halt and the hand salute. “Get them memorized and know the Drill Sergeant Creed.”

On top of all these mental tasks, drill sergeant candidates are required to perform physically, on strict standards, as well. While it’s not necessary to be a physical fitness master, a level of proficiency is a requirement. “[Physical fitness] does matter. You have to be able to lead from the front,” said Rodriquez. “You cannot have trainees passing you up as a drill sergeant. But, it’s not all about you can do it. It’s about can you teach it. So, it doesn’t do you any good to outrun all your Soldiers, if you cannot teach them the proper ways run or how to properly warm up for that run, or properly cool down using the recovery drills. So being able to physically do it is required, but if you cannot teach it, then you are not doing your job as a drill sergeant.”

That combination of mental and physical skills, all wrapped up in the ability to mentor civilians is the core of a drill sergeant. It’s that position of being the standard bearer that validates wearing the iconic “Brown Round.”

For those considering becoming a drill sergeant, they must realize the responsibility, explains Rodriguez. “Wearing this hat, you cannot afford a bad day. There is no such thing as a bad day for us. You cannot just wake up and say, I am not feeling it.” Regardless of the time, the number of days, or the complexity of the tasks at hand, “you have to wake up motivated and find a way to consistently be that example in front of them—no matter how you are feeling, what kind of day you’ve had, or what kind of month you’ve had.”

With that said, becoming a drill sergeant is something that candidates must take seriously. It’s not just a fire-and-forget school that results in a cool badge and hat. If that’s all a candidate really wants, they are probably going to get humbled really quick, said Rodriguez. “Wearing the hat is...there are expectations. You wear this hat there is a certain expectation. It doesn’t matter who you are. Even if you are not in the military, if someone sees a servicemember with this hat on, they have a certain expectation of discipline and standards.”

Candidates should also know that as tough as the schoolhouse is, the trail is even harder. There will be long days, grueling tasks and frustrating times. However, in between all that, there are countless rewarding moments for drill sergeants as they see their trainees transform from civilians into Soldiers. There is a sense of fulfillment and purpose. And for Rodriquez, being a drill sergeant is the best job in the Army. “There is nothing more rewarding than those Soldiers, when they leave, shaking your hand and thanking you for changing who they are as a human being, as an adult and as a Soldier. I will never have another job that is as fulfilling for me as this one is right now.”

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