[July 18, 2023] Shortly after graduation from Drill Sergeant School at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in 1978, I was promoted to Staff Sergeant in the Infantry and was assigned to a Basic Training unit. Duty was tough. The job demanded long hours, a high level of physical fitness, strict adherence to Army regulations, and extreme self-discipline. The days were long; fortunately, I started the late shift at 0600.
Looking in from the outside, the life of a Drill Sergeant appeared as an ideal assignment. Your job was pushing new soldiers to learn basic combat skills, military drill and ceremony, weapons proficiency, memorization of General Orders, and getting them into physical shape. While that was true, this perception was far from reality. A Drill Sergeant’s day began early and ended late, and the workweek was seven days per week.
Historically, each basic course cycle lasts ten weeks, and the schedule is filled with a barrage of activities from wake-up to lights-out. Only during breaks between cycles did a Drill Sergeant get a break.
From my vantage point, you had to be one tough SOB to survive two years as a Drill Sergeant. You take no crap from any new soldier. But simultaneously, you had to observe new soldiers carefully to ensure they were not in danger or hiding an injury or a crime. Drill Sergeants don’t like surprises. One way to ensure recruits are honest is to push them so hard that they cannot lie. That’s what we did, and it worked.
A tired recruit is a good recruit. One of my favorite activities in my platoon of all-male soldiers was the Rifle Drill. This was great because I would stand on a raised platform and give rifle commands. The upper body does not have the endurance of the lower body, so it was easy to tire out any soldier. One day I’m giving commands, and one of the new soldiers calls his M16A1 rifle a “gun.” I had him run around the formation calling out, “This is my rifle, this is my gun,” repeatedly.
Humor is found in the smallest of places, and I found it funny that the young man was running around singing this tune. When, to my surprise, another recruit laughed at the poor slob running. Then there were two soldiers running. One called out, “This is my rifle …” and the other sang, “That’s not funny. That’s not funny.” I nearly fell off the platform, laughing. Ah, yes, I did have a crude sense of humor.
I’m glad I spent my time as a Drill Sergeant. It helped me develop and better appreciate my circumstances. At the end of my two years, I was up for Sergeant First Class but chose to return to college for my degree. In college, I would join ROTC and be a cadet until graduation.
Later as an officer, I wore the Drill Sergeant “pumpkin” patch on my right pocket and was often asked how I earned it. Only Enlisted Soldiers can earn a DS patch. To this day, I’m happy I could survive being a Drill Sergeant.
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