For those Soldiers who wear the hat and badge, the Drill Sergeant Creed is something to live by while training civilians into Soldiers and it stretches well into their military career.
On an April morning at Fort Sill, in the darkness, you can hear the Drill Sergeant Creed being recited by a group of motivated noncommissioned officers who in the near future hope to become Drill Sergeants and wear that coveted hat and badge.
These Soldiers are part of Operation Hat Press, which is now conducting its third iteration. Each summer for the last three years, Drill Sergeant Candidates from across 1st Brigade, 95th Division have converged on Fort Sill for a two week consolidated Drill Sergeant Prep Program. The mission of Operation Hat Press is simple: coach, mentor, train, and prepare Drill Sergeant Candidates who are set to attend the Drill Sergeant Academy within the next 12 months.
During these two weeks, candidates will learn Physical Readiness Training (PRT) inside and out. They will learn how to “pitch” the talk through, by the numbers and step-by-step methods of instruction. They practice their Drill and Ceremony, and they learn how to conduct a formation and inspection correctly. In addition to skills they will need to be successful at the Drill Sergeant Academy, the candidates also have embedment time with various Basic Training Units on Fort Sill. The embedment time allows the candidates to see Drill Sergeants in action.
“I think the embedment time is a valuable part of what we want to accomplish during Hat Press. The candidates have an opportunity to see different Drill Sergeants in various phases of BCT and in different situations. They can see a little piece of what they will be expected to do once they put on their hat and go on “the trail”. They can also see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and start to form an opinion on what kind of Drill Sergeant they want to be,” says Master Sgt. Maria Kroeker, who has been involved in Operation Hat Press since the beginning and currently serves as the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge.
Through the two weeks, seasoned Drill Sergeants serve as mentors to the candidates, evaluating, correcting, teaching, and coaching them along the way. Sgt. 1st Class Chapman has served as the Senior Drill Sergeant of Hat Press for the last two years. “I tell these Soldiers that they have to be better than the Soldier next to them. They have to be better than the average Soldier. As a Soldier in the Army Reserve, Hat Press gives Soldiers an opportunity to get ahead. They will know what the expectations are at the Academy. They will be better prepared headed into it,” says Chapman.
Operation Hat Press got off the ground while Command Sgt. Major Robert B. Potts was the interim CSM for 1st BDE. He wanted to standardize the Brigade’s policy, program, and procedures on how to train and get qualified NCOs ready to attend and graduate the Drill Sergeant Academy. “Hat Press sets a solid foundation of how to lead a formation through physical readiness training, and drill and ceremonies. Hat Press also builds confidence, knowledge, and operational understanding to be a successful Drill Sergeant in any basic combat training or one station unit training environment,” said Potts.
With the push to make Drill Sergeants, Hat Press has also served as a great recruiting and retention tool. “It allows an opportunity for our current Drill Sergeants to assist and mentor the program,” Potts explains. “It also opens the door for recruiting new NCOs due to our programs management plan. Our Hat Press Management Plan encompasses a ‘lead from the front’ model. The Drill Sergeants selected have a thorough understanding of role modeling and mentoring which in return gives our candidates a conducive learning environment. This type of learning and broadening experience attracts quality NCO’s in our formations,” he continues.
The last three years Operation Hat Press has trained over 60 Soldiers, with many of them graduating with honors from the Drill Sergeant Academy. The feedback from those Soldiers has confirmed the importance of Hat Press. SFC Navarette graduated from the Drill Sergeant Academy with honors after attending Hat Press in 2016. “It helped expose me to PRT and what they were looking for at the school house. D&C was my weakness and it helped me get more comfortable,” she said.
In 2017, First Brigade added an additional increment of Hat Press, meaning that there is potential for training up to 64 Drill Sergeant Candidates. Drill Sergeants continue to be in high demand, especially with missions increasing in the Army. First Brigade has taken a proactive approach to meet these high demands of increasing the Army by implementing Hat Press to better prepare and motivate NCO’s to successfully meet or exceed the standard.
Behind every Soldier, there is a Drill Sergeant.