At a training command, the production of viable Drill Sergeant candidates is vital to the future of the mission. The requirement for regular update briefings to leadership at the United States Army Reserve Command (USARC) and the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) levels make that requirement all the more critical.
With candidate production lower than the 108th Training Command leadership felt comfortable with, the need was identified to dramatically increase recruiting numbers across the command. As part of what was initially called the “Drill Sergeant Recruiting Blitz,” several current Drill Sergeants stepped forward in the early days and committed themselves to making sure that Soldiers outside the command knew there existed an opportunity previously unknown to most, an opportunity to be one of the elite – a United States Army Reserve Drill Sergeant.
According to Charles Fairbanks, Chief Executive Officer, 108th Training Command (IET), Drill Sergeant (SSG) Sterling Johnson was one of those who raised his hand, stepped forward and accepted the challenge of spreading the word.
“Drill Sergeant Johnson stepped up to the plate in the early days of the blitz and he’s committed himself over the last several months to making a presence with the Reserve Component Career Counselors, the transition points at the Active Duty installations for those Compo One Soldiers, trying to decide what they’re going to do after they come aff active duty,” said Fairbanks.
The recruiting blitz had the Drill Sergeant team travelling to active duty stations across the United States and Europe, meeting with Career Counselors and Soldiers to explain to them the opportunity and benefit of becoming an Army Reserve Drill Sergeant.
“It has been really fun getting to go around to the different units, the different Basic Leader Courses and see the large footprint that the United States Army Reserve does have.” explained Johnson. “This mission has allowed me to see units and meet people from different places that have different life experiences.”
As part of the blitz, Johnson spent a great deal of his time educating the career counselors and letting them know about the opportunities available. There were some that just didn’t know how to present it as an option to possible candidates. By educating not only the career counselors but also the Soldiers, that gets people inquiring about it with their career counselor in the conversation about career progression.
Johnson was challenged in his mission by the misconception that somehow, a Drill Sergeant is larger than life with some Soldiers feeling they could not live up to the image they held in their minds about their own Basic Training experiences.
“Being able to get people that don’t think they are Drill Sergeant material to at least accept that ‘Oh, this is something that I can do,’ is my biggest success,” explained Johnson. “Part of that has to do with their vision of their Drill Sergeant from Basic Training and what they think —
When you’re in Basic Training you think the Drill Sergeant is this amazing person, not realizing that they are just an average noncommissioned officer, of course doing a great job,” he concluded.
Many Soldiers place the Drill Sergeant on a high pedestal thinking “I’m not at that level” without realizing that although you might not be there right now, you’re not far from it and with a little work, a little training you could be there.
Johnson spent most of the past few months making people aware that “‘hey, you qualify for this, this is something you can do and achieve” and helping them to realize their potential.
“I don’t need you to be a 300 PT score, I don’t need you to be 21 years old,” said Johnson. “I need you to have the potential. Can you teach a Soldier to shoot, move, communicate? Some of it’s convincing, some is just education.”
Although a combat MOS may seem like a requirement, Johnson assures potential candidates that it is not.
“I think that any MOS is able to become a Drill Sergeant,” stated Johnson. “A lot of the 11B folks are really good at Land Nav, and they’re really good at shooting and they’re really good at the tactical stuff but being a Drill Sergeant you have 60 trainees, there’s paperwork involved, there’s a certain level of compassion that needs to be had so those other MOSs are critical.”
Anybody, explained Johnson, any MOS certainly has things to bring to the table, just because of the particular MOS that the Army assigned you or you chose, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have life experiences to bring to the table that make you a good Drill Sergeant as well.
“I’m looking for someone who has some drive, who is motivated,” said Johnson. “I think those two things are big because DS school is difficult, when you’re on the trail it’s difficult. I’m not going to be able to convince you to become a Drill Sergeant, it’s something you have to want to do yourself. You might just need a little push in that direction.”
Another misconception Johnson battled during the recruiting blitz was the beliefs held by the Active Component when they were approached with an Army Reserve opportunity.
“They think that America’s Army Reserve is lazy, out of shape; that it’s difficult to have a civilian lifestyle as well as being in the Army,” explained Johnson. “Those are big misconceptions and I am able to knock right off the top. I have a civilian job, and even though I am on orders right now, my civilian job will still be there when I get done. I take the same PT test as you do, no different standards. I still have to go to the range, I still have to take a PT test, do medical and stuff just like you. Same big Army standards. Those are big misconceptions that we are able to clear right off the bat.”
With the misconceptions addressed Johnson is able to bring the conversation around to the benefits of becoming a Drill Sergeant.
“I think that Soldiers forget that they need a career broadening, or a detail,” he said. “Drill Sergeant is a great one to do that with. It gives you an excellence source of your leadership, a test of leadership skills.”
Although Johnson and a few others were selected to travel and do this full time, he notes that anyone can be a part of this recruiting blitz.
“Bring up Drill Sergeants, just bring it up!” he laughed. “Say ‘Hey, have you ever thought about being a Drill Sergeant?’ That alone I think goes far, just having that conversation with people … Telling people what the process is.”
He challenges other Soldiers in the 108th Training Command (IET) footprint to help fill the ranks.
“Look at what the minimum requirements are to become a DS are, and as long as someone meet those qualifications, get them in the door.”
According to Johnson his mission success is getting the phone to ring, and keeping people knocking at the door.
“As long as Soldiers are knocking at the door, we are getting them in and allowing those companies, those commanders and 1st Sergeants to mold those potential candidates and get them to be Drill Sergeants,” he explained.