The Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition 2009: Camaraderie amid Challenge

By Kim, Carroll | Soldiers Magazine, September 2009 | Go to article overview

The Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition 2009: Camaraderie amid Challenge


Kim, Carroll, Soldiers Magazine


STAFF Sgts. Michael Johnston and Joshua Marshall's victories drew the weeklong Drill Sergeant of the Year competition to a close, June 26, at Fort Monroe, Va.'s Continental Park.

The competition tested the top seven drill sergeants over a five-day period on their ability to perform the tasks they teach Soldiers every day.

The role of the drill sergeant has been to introduce civilian recruits to the Army through instruction and mentoring. The modern drill sergeant education program began in the 1960s after Assistant Secretary of the Army Stephen Ailes evaluated the quality of training new recruits received.

Lack of standards, discouraging attitudes and long hours worked by instructors led Ailes to set up a series of pilot programs that taught a new curriculum and standardized the training program for Army recruit instructors.

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The new training model grew into the establishment of drill sergeant schools. The first drill sergeants graduated in 1964 and the first female drill sergeants graduated seven years later in 1971.

In 1969, Sgt. 1st Class A.G. Carpenter was named the first Drill Sergeant of the Year for the active-duty component. Three years later in 1972, Sgt. 1st Class D.A. Castern won the first title of Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year.

The 2009 Drill Sergeant of the Year competition began June 21 at Fort Monroe with a weigh-in and event brief. The competition agenda was kept secret, as almost every task was a surprise for the contenders.

"From day one until now, we knew absolutely nothing--we didn't know when we were going to eat; it's always a mystery," said Johnston, from Fort Benning, Ga. "We're supposed to be seasoned noncommissioned officers, so on top of things, the competition really tested that about us."

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The first day tested the drill sergeants on physical tasks, mental tasks, and Army knowledge. It started with the Army physical fitness test and ended with an essay. In between those events were reflexive fire shooting, stress shoots and combatives. The drill sergeants were also asked to point out deficiencies on Army uniforms. With surprise tasks issued at unexpected times, the drill sergeants, who are used to planning the day's lessons in advance, were forced to adapt to the challenge of not knowing what was to come next.

"After the physical fitness test, I realized I had to be very reactive to the situations that presented themselves and try to complete the task as much as possible and get to know my peers to the best of my ability," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Wildman from Fort Knox, Ky.

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"(Drill sergeants) are very used to having plans and strict guidelines ... not knowing ultimately what was next hinders our preparation, but makes us very driven and very focused," he said.

The participants found time to exchange training advice between the back-to-back events--advice that they said would help them back at their home posts.

"All the stuff I've learned from being around the other drill sergeants, listening to the way they teach at their posts--I'm going to take that back with me," said Staff Sgt. James Barrett from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

"Since I'm a Reserve drill sergeant, we work in a battalion of Reserve drills where we do our routines, train and go home," said Staff Sgt. Sharma McKinnon of the 98th Division. "But what I'm learning is that we need to take time to train ourselves. We can keep training other units and getting them squared away, but if we don't do a couple more field training exercises, we risk losing those skills."

The drill sergeants received as little as four hours of sleep on any given night during the competition. Day three began with a 3 a.m. wake-up call followed by a four-point land navigation course. During land navigation, the drill sergeants had to find four points on Fort Eustis, Va. …

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