Army Reserve drill sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Blanchett, 3rd Bn., 518th Inf. Reg. 98th Training Div. (IET), encourages visitors trying to do push-ups at Fan Fest during the CIAA College Basketball tournament held annually in Charlotte, N.C., Feb 26, 2016. Blanchett has been a drill sergeant with the Army Reserve since 2004.
Charlotte, N.C. — Interim Command Sgt. Maj. of the Army Reserve, Command Sgt. Maj. James Wills defines mentorship as “the positive influence of leaders, whether up, down, or lateral.”
For more than half a century, the Army has looked to its corps of drill sergeants to provide that mentorship. Whether on an obstacle course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, or a battlefield in the Middle East, drill sergeants have provided a level of expertise to the young Soldiers of America’s premiere fighting force unmatched by any other organization of its kind.
But what stands out for the Army Reserve is the level of mentorship its drill sergeants provide while not only on duty but away from the trail as well.
Take Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Blanchett, 3rd Bn., 518th Inf. Reg., 98th Training Division (IET).
Blanchett has been a drill sergeant with the Army Reserve since 2004. He also serves as a school resource officer at the Cochrane Collegiate Academy for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department.
“My job is to bridge the gap between the police department and the youth of today. There’s a lot of misconceptions about police officers and how we deal with the community. But these young minds get to learn firsthand on how to interact with me and I’m able to give them a different perspective from what they hear on the streets,” Blanchett said.
Blanchett, who has been a law enforcement officer for 14 years now, says he grew up tough in the slums of Philly. He says mentorship is what got him through his childhood into the productive citizen he is today. Passing on that mentorship is something he feels obligated to do.
Army Reserve drill sergeant and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department school resource officer, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Blanchett, 3rd Bn., 518th Inf. Reg. 98th Training Div. (IET), along with other Charlotte area law enforcement officers, plays chess against students at Cochrane Collegiate Academy located in Charlotte, N.C., March 2, 2016. Blanchett hosts the chess club at the school every Wednesday after school. He reinstated the club in 2016 as a way for teachers, parents and other law enforcement officers in the area to have positive interaction with students after school.
“Mentorship is without a doubt my favorite aspect of both jobs, whether it’s Army or law enforcement,” he said. “I love being able to take something that I’ve learned and present it back to both students and Soldiers in a way that teaches. Hopefully, they can take something I’ve presented to them and either change their goals or elevate their goals.”
“Our students need people to look up to,” said Rachel Corn, Cochrane Collegiate Academy principal. “Officer Blanchett has lived it from different angles and one of the things our students are not exposed to is the outside world. Our students are very sheltered and I think he offers is a glimpse into what else is out there, other opportunities.”
But providing mentorship to students in an inner city school can be challenging. So starting at the beginning of the current school year, Blanchett brought back an old forgotten favorite among the students: the chess club.
Every Wednesday afternoon Blanchett, along with other faculty members as well as law enforcement officers from around Charlotte, meet at the Academy to take a quick lesson and then match their whit with the students in the centuries old game.
“I wanted to have more positive interaction with the students off the clock, so I went to Mrs. Simpson, who used to run the chess club and started it up again. I think it’s been pretty successful so far. It’s turned into one more tool we can use as law enforcement officers to interact with the students and we get to learn chess at the same time,” Blanchett said.
And that success has not gone unnoticed.
“If you pull in to this school on a Wednesday and see all the police cars you would think something happened. But then you walk in the cafeteria and see all these law enforcement officers sitting there playing chess with the middle school students. It’s just amazing,” Corn said.
“The reason why we have police officers on campus is in case something happens. But the reality is he is so involved in every aspect of the school that he has become more than just protection. We have a 100% partnership. I run everything by him, even things that don’t involve law enforcement. In that way I think Officer Blanchett owns this school and he has become a mentor not only to the kids but to me as well,” she said.
Starting from the top!
Army Reserve drill sergeant and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department school resource officer, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Blanchett, 3rd Bn., 518th Inf. Reg. 98th Training Div. (IET), steps out of his car at the beginning of the school day at Cochrane Collegiate Academy located in Charlotte, N.C., March 2, 2016. Blanchett has been a law enforcement officer with Charlotte for 13 years.
KRC Research, at the bequest of the Army Reserve, recently conducted a survey of Army Reserve Soldiers within their one year reenlistment window, aimed at understanding key factors involved in their decision to reenlist or not.
Of the 212 Soldiers interviewed, leadership effectiveness and responsiveness were two of the top reasons for Soldiers deciding to exit the service. Moreover, those who decided or are planning on continuing their military service with the Army Reserve, say they were satisfied with the effectiveness and responsiveness of their first line leaders and their overall Army Reserve experience.
In short, mentorship is paramount to improving the Reserve Soldier experience. It is the paradigm for how leaders should conduct their interactions with Soldiers.
“Mentorship is key in any team driven organization,” said Command Sgt. Maj. James Wills, Interim Command Sgt. Maj. of the Army Reserve. “It’s the fuel that commonly bonds a team toward success and in essence enabling Soldiers to win on the battlefield. Soldiers expect feedback. They want to know how, when, where and what they can do to be a better Soldier /performer. I can’t imagine any NBA or NFL team winning anything without the positive influence of mentorship.”
Wills went on to say the Army Reserve is using creative ways to ensure the message of mentorship is being sent out to the field via social media, Command advisory boards, and various other digital platforms.
“Awareness is key and a starting point. It starts from the top!”