Joined for College, but Found Even More

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He joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a way to pay for college back in 2010. Now, years later, Staff Sgt. Jovon Miles realizes that this one decision gave him more than a degree, it gave him a career, valuable experiences and a path to his best self.

“I originally joined because I wanted to gain a college degree and get it paid for by the military,” said Miles, reflecting back.

“I accomplished that goal in 2015, earning my Bachelor’s Degree from Grantham University in Criminal Justice and Homeland Security. After joining though, I gained a deep love for the military and it became a passion of mine.”

Serving as a Soldier became something Miles took pride in. He enjoyed the discipline, the purpose, the motivation. In 2012, Miles deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. There, the young Soldier learned what it meant to have an Army family and realized he was a part of something bigger than himself.

The Ocala, Florida native served as a motor transport operator, which kept him busy learning a skill, all while finishing his degree. By the time Miles reached the rank of sergeant, the young noncommissioned officer was ready for a new goal though.

 

“I wanted to experience something new, and more challenging. I was approached about becoming an Army Reserve drill sergeant, and I jumped on the opportunity and never looked back,” said Miles, who was then part of Charlie Company, 2/485th, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division out of Orlando, Florida.

Deciding to become a drill sergeant was a natural choice for Miles back then. He remembers seeing the drill sergeant hat, even before he became a Soldier himself, and to him, it signified something special. When he saw the hat, he saw an expert, a professional and a leader—and that was something he wanted to emulate. So, he worked hard on how he looked, how he moved and how he spoke. But it wasn’t all about presentation, Drill Sergeant Candidate Miles had to have substance as well. So he studied and studied some more to ensure he was the subject matter expert he always believed a drill sergeant to be.

So when Miles finally earned the title of drill sergeant, he felt like he made it, and it was a big deal.

“For me to graduate and walk across the stage was the biggest accomplishment in my military career then, because I always wanted to be a drill sergeant.”

Of course, while attending the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Drill Sergeant Candidate Miles was already planning his next career move. With the title of drill sergeant coming to fruition, Miles saw the impact his drill sergeant leaders at the Academy were making, and he knew that was his next goal.

However, before he could become a Drill Sergeant Leader, the new Drill Sergeant Miles had to get out on the trail and train new recruits, and that experience brought all the doctrine he just learned into reality.

“Getting out there and training Soldiers opened up my eyes,” said Miles reflecting on his time as a drill sergeant for Basic Combat Training.

Molding civilians into Soldiers is no easy task. It’s grueling long hours that require extreme amounts of patience, knowledge and discipline. Though there is one end goal, not all trainees are the same, and that fact made Drill Sergeant Miles dig deep into his developing leadership and instructor skills.

“I learned, you have to train each trainee a bit differently. If they are not grasping a concept, you have to break it down in another way for them to grasp it,” said Miles. “You cannot just zone that trainee out because they don’t get it, and everybody else does.”

Those early days on the trail taught Drill Sergeant Miles to be a better leader, a better instructor. He went out of the way to give his best to the recruits, because he knew that they would be the next generation of the Army, and he wanted to make a difference.

His hard work paid off many times as Miles saw his recruits become Soldiers. However, one time the reward was even more personal than that. Miles recalls that one of his platoons specifically requested that he be the drill sergeant to place their patches on them during a ceremony. It wasn’t just that they liked Drill Sergeant Miles, but because they said he was the drill sergeant they had learned the most from, and that meant a lot to Miles.

After serving a few years as a drill sergeant, Miles was ready to become a drill sergeant leader, which meant going back to the Academy at Fort Jackson.

And once more, there was Miles walking across the stage. However, instead of earning his drill sergeant hat, he was earning his drill sergeant leader belt this time. As his wife put the belt on him, he knew that he had moved to yet another level of responsibility and standards, because now, he was not only training new Soldiers, but he was training future drill sergeants.

“While growing up, I always wanted to wear the drill sergeant hat before I got out of the military. So me becoming a drill sergeant was a big milestone for me, and becoming a drill sergeant leader was an even bigger one.”

Training noncommissioned officers to become drill sergeants is different from training civilians to become Soldiers, said Miles.

“Training a person to become a drill sergeant is a little easier because they are already a noncommissioned officer. So they know the Army, having been in the Army for some odd years.”

Of course, with that said, experience comes with its downfalls too. It’s inevitable that some people get set in their ways, or are not aware of recent changes, and that can make things difficult at times, said Miles about his new role training drill sergeant candidates.

“Sometimes it can get complicated because you see the attitude come out, and you get the whys, and the Why should we do this? or the, I’ve never done this before.”

So for those considering becoming a drill sergeant, Drill Sergeant Leader Miles says to come with an open mind and be ready to learn something.

“Someone will eventually tell you that you are doing something wrong, and you cannot snap back and give attitude with every type of correction. The criticism is just correcting a deficiency that you may have had, and you have to be able to take that constructive criticism.”

Watching strong noncommissioned officers find their potential and earn their own drill sergeant hat has become a sense of pride for Miles.

“Being able to coach them to be better than what they are, serves as a higher purpose for me.”

And just like when he trained recruits, Miles puts his all into training noncommissioned officers. He worked so hard in fact that he earned the title of Drill Sergeant of the Cycle in April 2021.

Earning that honor as a Reserve drill sergeant is just the example Miles wants to set for his peers. Putting on the Drill Sergeant Hat and Badge is not just an honor, it is a responsibility that Miles has grown into. Living up to the standards of that role requires effort, so every time Miles puts on his uniform, he says his ‘swag is a little different.’

“I step out in crowds a little more confident because they know that everybody cannot wear the hat.”

And even when Miles hangs up the hat for his next career move, he said the Drill Sergeant Motto of ‘This We’ll Defend’ will always be what he lives by.

“It means I will always be here doing my job, whether I have on the hat or not. I am always going to be here to coach. I am always going to be here to mentor, and I will always defend.”

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