Civilian and Military Service Go Hand in Hand for Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year

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2015 Army Reserve Drill Sgt. of the Year, Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, 95th Training Division (IET), prepares to X-ray a patient’s elbow at an orthopedic clinic in Edmond, Okla., Dec. 7, 2015. Mercer began his career in 2002 with the Army Reserve as an X-ray technician and earned his civilian certification as a nationally recognized X-ray technician through his training with the Army in advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston on Joint Base San Antonio. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton, 108th Training Command (IET), Public Affairs

EDMOND, Okla. — How do you envision your drill sergeant? As a stern, totalitarian figure; barking out orders with an inaudible loud snarl, ready to pounce on your every misstep.

Or do you see them more as a mentor? Someone who takes the time to understand your individual strengths and weaknesses; someone who takes a step back to see what you’re going through, helping you in your transformation from citizen to Soldier in 10 fast-paced weeks.

That’s the real goal of the Army’s drill sergeant program and for the 2015 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, 95th Training Division (IET), that’s a skill he learned best through his civilian employment.

“I think the civilian sector has helped me particularly as a drill sergeant,” said Mercer. “As drill sergeants we’ve gone from that strict rule enforcer and intimidating presence to more the role of counselor, coach, and mentor. Working with people outside the military has taught me to put myself in the shoes of people inside of the military and really take a look at what they’re going through in order to best serve them.”

Mercer began his career with the Army Reserve in 2002 as an X-ray technician and spent a combined 67 weeks in basic combat training and advanced individual training. His AIT was split between six months of classroom work at Fort Sam Houston on Joint Base San Antonio and six months of practical experience at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

“I have always liked the medical field and thought doing so in the Army Reserve would help me with what I wanted to do with my civilian career. But it was my father who actually picked X-ray tech. I wanted to go infantry!”

Because of his military training with an accredited program, Mercer was able to immediately take and pass a 200-question test earning him a certification as a nationally registered X-ray technician. Putting his newly acquired skills to work, he landed a job near his hometown of Yukon, Oklahoma and later received a baccalaureate in administrative leadership and business management at the University of Oklahoma.

“The Army paid for every penny of that, 100 percent. Thanks to tuition assistance and the G.I. bill, zero dollars came out of my pocket,” Mercer said.

Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer (right), Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, counts push-ups for Jeffrey Simmons (left), All-American Bowl East player from Noxubee High School in Macon, Miss., during the All-American Challenge events, Jan. 5, 2016. The event featured push-up, sit-up, and eating competitions between East-West All-American Bowl players, and band members. This event is part of a weeklong of engagements of celebrating the Nation’s largest and premier high school all-star football game. The players and musicians of the bowl are granted the opportunity to wear the Army colors by demonstrating their dedication to team, community, and excellence. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Rauel Tirado, 204th Public Affairs Detachment, Public Affairs

Having come full circle with his military and civilian careers, Mercer said the military helped him to see the goal oriented side of business while the civilian sector helps him to deal with the human side.

“The Army Reserve is very structured. You are given a mission and you accomplish that mission, period. In the civilian workforce, you learn more of how to deal with people to accomplish that same mission,” Mercer said.

Pam Fraim, Edmond Orthopedic Group practice manager, has worked with several Army Reserve Soldiers throughout her career. She has been Mercer’s supervisor since April of 2014. She said the skills that he brings to the table from the military has benefited the practice.

“The Soldiers I have worked with are direct, disciplined, and have high integrity,” Fraim said. “I see both sides of the spectrum. I think if you would have talked to me when I first started here, I would have said that the direct, in your face style of management may have been an issue. But now I see that being direct, but being direct in such a way that gets people to follow you as a counselor, coach, and mentor can be a benefit.”

She believes there is a direct correlation between the skills learned in the military and how you apply those skills to the civilian workplace.

“Mark has been a great help to me especially over these last six months or so that he’s been involved with the Drill Sergeant of the Year program. He’s stepped up to the plate as far as keeping people on task. He will take an issue and say ‘okay, let’s do this, this way, for six months and then come back and revisit it.’ I think he’s actually increased his management skills because of that program,” Fraim said.

Mercer soon takes a break from the orthopedic practice to fulfill his requirement as Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. But if his past track record is any indication of success, both the Army Reserve and the Edmond Orthopedic Group have a very bright future on the horizon.

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