A Lasting Legacy


DS Brandon Nelson mentors a candidate during October 2019’s VALEX hosted in Fort McCoy, WI. Photo by Spc. Alyssa Hough

Drill Sergeants leave an indelible mark on the Soldiers whom they train. Being a Drill Sergeant is a unique assignment, not found anywhere else in the Army.

So, why do Drill Sergeants do what they do? To answer that question, I traveled to 3RD Brigade, 95TH Division’s annual Drill Sergeant Validation Exercise (VALEX) held at Fort McCoy, WI from 23-27 October 2019 and interviewed Drill Sergeants from across the brigade’s footprint, which spans across the United States. The VALEX is designed to prepare candidates for the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy and ensure they are ready to take on one of the greatest challenges in the U.S. military.

The Drill Sergeants I interviewed come from all walks of life. They are true Citizen Soldiers who may also be teachers, police officers, or engineers. However, as Drill Sergeants they all have at least one thing in common – being a member of the most exclusive assignment in the U.S. Army.

DS Brandon Nelson demonstrates to SGT Bellitiere how to properly pitch a module at VALEX hosted by 3rd BDE in Fort McCoy, WI on 26 October 2019. Photo by Spc. Alyssa Hough (From left to right) DS Michael Malinowski, DS Joshua McKee, and DS Kurtis Cheetham wait for the candidates to arrive for training at the 3rd BDE VALEX in Fort McCoy, WI on 26 October 2019. Photo by Spc. Alyssa Hough

In nearly every interview, Drill Sergeants expressed that training Soldiers has been the most gratifying experience in their civilian and military careers. Being a Drill Sergeant is the only time when a Soldier has the opportunity to observe a civilian transform into a Soldier. DS Brandon Nelson, a combat engineer who represented the 2-330th Regiment out of Machesney Park, IL, described this process as “planting a seed.” He remarked, “As a Drill Sergeant, sometimes you don’t see the blossom, but you know you did your part in the larger scheme of things.” Drill Sergeants described their joy in watching their trainees’ grow in both skills and confidence. Senior DS Joshua McKee, an Infantryman of the 1-354th Regiment based in Muskogee, OK, described the impact as being able to teach individuals how to be the right kind of Soldier.

Drill Sergeants from 3rd Brigade pose for a group photo after a weeklong training exercise to prepare Drill Sergeant Candidates at the VALEX in Fort McCoy, WI on 27 October 2019. Photo by Spc. Alyssa Hough (From left to right) DS Joshua McKee, DS Michael Browning, DS Brandon Nelson, and DS Richard Wilson observe candidates pitching training modules during VALEX at Fort McCoy, WI on 26 October 2019. Photo by Spc. Alyssa Hough

A common theme appeared across the formal interviews and casual banter – it is the ability to imprint a lasting legacy within the Army.

From the Barling, Ark. detachment of the 1-354th Regiment, DS Alejandro Marciano, a combat engineer, believes “If you affect one life, you’ve made it. When you have multiple Soldiers in various points of their careers reaching out to you, that’s the moment you realize you are changing Soldiers’ lives with your actions and influence.” Across the board, Drill Sergeants’ motivation is fueled by the sight of their Soldiers growing into effective leaders, officers, and faces of tomorrow’s Army.

Drill Sergeants running the VALEX in Fort McCoy, WI put out information regarding the Drill Sergeant Academy to candidates on 27 October 2019. Photo by Spc. Alyssa Hough DS Quinn Saunders annotates candidate performance in order to give detailed feedback to assist them for the Drill Sergeant Academy. Photo taken 27 October 2019 at Fort McCoy, WI during the VALEX by Spc. Alyssa Hough.


Drill Sergeants won’t remember every trainee’s name, but every trainee will remember their Drill Sergeants’ names. Be the Soldier others aspire to be; be the start of a Soldier’s motivation; be a Drill Sergeant.


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