For more than two centuries, women have been contributing to the success of the Army. A concerted effort has gone into preserving the stories and impact of those efforts through organizations like the U.S. Army Women’s Museum and the Women in Military Service for America (W.I.M.S.A.) for decades. More recently, Army stories celebrating the success of female Soldiers have found their way into mainstream media in the past five years; we have openly celebrated Army women across all ranks as they break down barriers in combat military occupational specialties and training courses like Ranger School and the Special Forces Qualification Course.
Staff Sgt. Rhiane Titus, a current drill sergeant with the 2nd Battalion, 317th Regiment, 2nd Brigade in the 104th Division (Leader Training), put it well, saying “I’ve always been excited to see females make their way into spaces that they, traditionally, have been excluded from.” And the past five years have given us a lot of opportunities to do just that.
It is important to note though, that while these women are the first to make a specific leap, they had female Soldiers to look up to and learn from. They had women that were cheering them on and encouraging them to take that leap. These trailblazers had strong women in uniform there to serve as role models and mentors.
For many female Soldiers, their first, and often most memorable, role model is a drill sergeant. With the first female drill sergeants graduating in 1972, we are nearing a momentous anniversary; come February 2021, female drill sergeants will hit their own milestone- 50 years of service. While training and education are predominantly female-centric careers on the civilian side, only about 20% of Army drill sergeants are female right now.
The Army requires gender-integrated training, and even requires a female drill sergeant in every integrated platoon, but getting female equality in leadership positions is difficult. Megan Reed, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, has previously pointed out that women, statistically, are stepping up as leaders, graduating Drill Sergeant School in bigger cohorts than ever before, though. To capitalize on this forward progress, as a female drill sergeant, I would like to share a few anecdotal facts:
Female drill sergeants do not have to be overly-masculine. Outside of the uniform, personal style and preferences are across a broad spectrum, just like in the general population. So, if hair and makeup tutorials are your guilty pleasure, it does not mean you cannot be an effective drill sergeant.
We come in all colors and sizes. Your nationality, sexuality, marital status, and height (or any other demographic variable you can think of) are of no consequence to whether you can do the job well. Drill sergeants are humans, and our Soldiers do best when commonalities exist between them and their cadre.
Being a mom does not disqualify you from wearing the hat. In fact, I’d argue that my drill sergeant training has made me a better mom and that being a mom has helped me connect with my trainees in new ways, making me a better leader, too.
From GED to Ph.D., drill sergeants’ civilian education backgrounds run the gamut. Your interest in learning from a classroom environment does not dictate your ability to train future Soldiers.
Every Soldier has their strengths, and that is true for drill sergeants, too. You have a team of battle buddies to draw from and share the responsibility of training future Soldiers; you do not have to be the best at everything to be a great drill sergeant.
Training is a team effort. The best drill sergeants work with their battle buddies to create a comprehensive training plan that takes advantage of each team members’ strengths.
As Titus put it, “we are a stronger fighting force when we are a diverse fighting force.”
While the iconic hats have not changed much, drill sergeants themselves come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of backgrounds and personal preferences. As we inch closer to the 50th anniversary of the female drill sergeant, I urge you to consider stepping up and helping to shape the next generation of Soldiers, or if you are male, encourage a high-speed female colleague to take the leap. Let’s make 2021 the year of the female drill sergeant.