Tag Archives: drill sergeant

Fort Sill’s move to certify drill sergeants at brigade level paves way for Armywide POI

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Drill sergeants are entrusted with transforming civilian volunteers into new Soldiers. They must be symbols of excellence for new recruits, as they are everything their Soldiers know of the Army. The Army’s future rests on them and their ability to mold motivated, disciplined, fit and capable Soldiers.

“The ultimate goal is to produce and maintain the highest quality trainer so they can produce the highest quality Soldier,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, command sergeant major for the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia. “The better drill sergeant we can produce, the better Soldier we can produce for the force.”

So how does the Army ensure only the best of the best continue to train America’s Soldiers? Training and Doctrine Command Regulation 350-16 stipulates that drill sergeants must certify each year to prove they are still subject matter experts in all the warrior tasks and battle drills. But the process by which the drill sergeants certify varies across the Army’s training centers, and even from one battalion to another.

To remedy the problem, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, now conducts the certification at brigade level. The change ensures a more consistent training experience for each Soldier, and has paved the way for standardization of drill sergeant certification Armywide.

“Fort Sill has an outstanding [certification] program that it has in place right now, almost to the point where it is a model that we can look at as a best practice to incorporate into other facilities, into the Program of Instruction,” Gragg said.

Gragg said he hopes to standardize the requirements for drill sergeant certification across all four Basic Combat Training locations. The POI that would accomplish that should be in place by the end of 2016, he said.

“We will definitely use some tenets from the program in place at Fort Sill,” Gragg said. “What Fort Sill has done – is doing, and continues to do – is awesome, and I can honestly say they are producing day in and day out some of our best Soldiers coming out of basic training.”

Fort Sill drill sergeant certification

When Fort Sill’s drill sergeant certification was being implemented at the battalion level, drill sergeants were grading other drill sergeants, which created staffing issues.

“Anytime certification needed to be done, the units had to cut this position out – that is a drill sergeant that could be utilized to train Soldiers that they can’t use to train Soldiers because they have to train or maintain consistency in the drill-sergeant population,” Gragg said. “That’s why Fort Sill doing it at the brigade level eases some of the manning requirements; it is one level teaching it as opposed to duplication of efforts at a battalion level.”

Staff Sgt. Franco Peralta, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year for 2015, noticed that, in addition to staffing challenges, the grading and the tasks being graded differed greatly from one battalion to another, and that the certification was not much of a challenge for the drill sergeants to obtain. He worked with his command to standardize the certification process and raise the bar for drill sergeants across the 434th Field Artillery Brigade. The new process was implemented in February 2016.

“Now, at brigade level, it is more rigorous and more challenging,” Peralta said. “And, drill sergeants are graded by cadre from Headquarters and Headquarters Support who are subject-matter experts. For example, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear tasks are graded by CBRN experts in that field. If it is a medical task, it is graded by medics.”

The certification is offered once a month, after a four-day refresher course in which drill sergeants train on the 30 tasks outlined in the Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks (SMCT 21-1.) On certification day, the drill sergeants are tested on 15 of the 30 tasks, but do not know beforehand which those will be.

“A drill sergeant is an expert in the warrior tasks and battle drills,” said Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year. “That’s what we are. We should be experts in everything in SMCT 21-1. We train Soldiers right out of that book, and if we don’t know how to do it ourselves, how are we going to teach them? The whole idea of this certification is to get everybody on post on the same page, so that every Soldier is getting trained to standard, across the board.”

If drill sergeants fail the certification test – which has happened quite a bit across the brigade, Randall said – they receive counseling and are required to recertify the next month. If they fail twice, they will receive counseling and be removed from the drill sergeant program for a month. They will remain with their unit, but will not be allowed to train Soldiers for 30 days.

“The idea behind that is to get them 30 days of solid training so they can meet the standard,” Randall said. “If they fail a third time, they will be recommended for removal from the drill sergeant program all together.”

Both Randall and Peralta said they have noticed a marked difference in the confidence of the brigade’s drill sergeants and in the quality of the training they provide.

“I think it’s good because when the drill sergeants know they can do everything by the book, they get in front of the Soldiers and teach them with confidence,” Peralta said. “That extra pressure – it’s hard when someone is looking at you and testing you. ‘OK, let me see how you clear an M4, how you load an M4.’ It makes them nervous. But after they prepare, study, read through the book, they have more confidence to teach their Soldiers and know they are teaching a task the right way, just how TRADOC wants it to be taught.”

“I think everybody is kind of walking with their chest puffed out, walking a little taller than they used to,” Randall said. “They feel more proud to be drill sergeants, and if they haven’t certified yet, they look at it as a competitive game. It’s good stuff.”

Moving toward an Armywide standard

Though Gragg praised the measures Fort Sill has taken to standardize certification across the brigade, he pointed out that the process still varies from one brigade to another. The fact that the 434th Field Artillery Brigade will soon be breaking down basic training under two Advanced Individual Training brigades, he said, further highlights the need for an even higher-level standard to maintain consistency.

“Right now, the advantage of brigade-level certification is that it provides a consistent standard from that brigade on down. The only concern with that is that if the standard they are teaching at brigade A is different than what they are teaching at brigade B, then you have an inconsistent product that is being produced,” Gragg said. “My goal is to have a Program of Instruction in place across TRADOC so that, whether it is being utilized at the brigade level or the battalion level, the product is the same.

“Whether the Army Training Centers choose to utilize the POI at the brigade level or the battalion level is going to be up to them. The Center for Initial Military Training isn’t going to tell units how to conduct their certification. We just want to ensure that the certification is conducted to a standard that we feel all drill sergeants need to meet.”

Gragg said he hopes to have the POI completed by the fourth quarter of this year. Meanwhile, he is gathering feedback from the force as to what should be included. What are the most important perishable skills that drill sergeants need to brush up on every year? He is working to identify those areas and get drill sergeants the tools they need to keep those skills sharp and deliver the best training possible to U.S. Soldiers.

“We in IMT are in the business of process improvement,” Gragg said. “We have been making Soldiers for 241 years, but we still aren’t perfect at it. We are always looking at ways to improve our ability to produce the best Soldiers we possibly can.”

U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants with the 108th Training Command stand at attention during a change of command ceremony at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Sgt. Ken Scar / U.S. Army)
U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants with the 108th Training Command stand at attention during a change of command ceremony at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Sgt. Ken Scar / U.S. Army)

Fort Sill Drill Sergeant of the Year will be a ‘force to be reckoned with’ in TRADOC competition

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

A year ago, Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall had plans to join Special Forces. Little did he know that in the span of a few short months, he would instead graduate from drill sergeant school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, be inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club and selected as NCO of the Month, NCO of the Quarter and then Fort Sill’s 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year. He now has his sights set on the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year competitions.

“I absolutely see him going on to TRADOC DSOY and Army DSOY,” said 1st Sgt. Shandrel Stewart of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery Regiment, 434th Field Artillery Brigade, who recommended him for the Drill Sergeant of the Year competition. “I think he can win it all. I don’t know who the competition is, but Drill Sgt. Randall is a force to be reckoned with. The other competitors are going to have to be on their A-game, and they are going to have to bring it.”

Randall said he is excited about competing in the TRADOC Drill Sergeant of the Year competition in September.

“I don’t think I will ever have another opportunity in my whole career to do something like this,” Randall said. “I definitely don’t want to look back on it four or five months from now and say, ‘I wish I had given more effort,’ or ‘I wish I had studied more.’ It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I’m going to give it all I’ve got. Hopefully when they call the winner’s name it will be mine. We’ll see.”

Preparing for the competition

“Drill Sgt. Randall is very competitive,” Stewart said. “He will say that he is not, but everything is a competition. He does not like losing, and he is very goal-oriented. You always hear people saying, ‘Oh, I don’t care if I win or lose.’ Drill Sgt. Randall has a way of making you care, making you want to compete with him, making you want to say, ‘Hey, if he did it, then I know I can do it.’”

Randall found time to study for the Fort Sill competition even during the “red phase” of basic training, when drill sergeants – usually two per platoon – are with their Soldiers from 4:45 a.m. until 9 p.m. or later. They get their Soldiers out of bed, lead them in physical training, accompany them to the chow hall for meals and run them through the training events for the day. In the evenings, drill sergeants can be found cleaning weapons, inspecting gear and helping Soldiers deal with personal issues. And then the next day, it’s “wash, rinse, repeat,” Randall said.

“Even though we were still in red phase, he found time,” Stewart said. “He kept 3-by-5 cards in his pocket and studied, studied, studied. During lunch, he studied, studied. So many would have made excuses, but he found the time.”

Randall knew the competition could test him on any task drill sergeants teach their Soldiers. Staff Sgt. Franco Peralta, Fort Sill’s former Drill Sergeant of the Year, designed this year’s competition at Fort Sill to emulate what he experienced last year in the TRADOC Drill Sergeant of the Year competition. Competitors completed a 12-mile foot march, were tested on multiple basic tasks and were placed in simulations of real-life scenarios.

“Situations you think would not be tested, they can throw in there,” Randall said. “For example, we were doing a recovery drill for PT – kind of a cool-down stretch at the end – and one of the Soldiers takes a knee and says she just can’t do it anymore. She wants to quit; she is having all these issues back home. So we were evaluated on our approach – they call it ‘taking off the hat.’ You can’t always be stern. Sometimes you have to show them you are also human and care for their needs. You’ve got to coach them through it and get them back in the fight.”

Taking pride in an important job

Though being a drill sergeant was not what he had planned for this stage of his career, Randall said he takes so much pride in being the face of the Army for new Soldiers. The best part of his job, he said, is seeing not only the drastic change in the Soldiers by the time they graduate from basic combat training, but the drastic change in their futures.

“The Soldiers who come here with nothing else – they were sleeping in a car before they got here, they had no money, no job – that’s kind of how I was when I came into the Army. Just seeing that person transform and have an enormous amount of opportunities when they leave here, that’s my favorite part of this job,” Randall said. “It’s amazing to see those underprivileged individuals come in and realize that hard work pays off, that when they leave here they will definitely have a better life.”

On the other hand, he said, the hardest part of the job is seeing individuals come through who really want to be there, but who ultimately don’t make the cut.

“In the cycle I just graduated, there was one – she was in military intelligence, very smart, I could tell she wanted to be here. She gave 110 percent, but when she first came in she couldn’t do one sit-up. She made progress; she got up to three, and then to seven. But 21 sit-ups is the minimum required on the PT test, so she had to chapter out of the military. It’s hard to see. You coach them, and you want them to succeed, but even though a drill sergeant is there 18 hours a day, they can’t do the work for them.”

Across the board, though, no matter how much a Soldier struggles through basic combat training, they come to admire their drill sergeant, Randall said.

“If you ask any Soldier who they think the best drill sergeant is on this post, they will tell you it’s their drill sergeant,” Randall said. “They may not say that during the first three or four weeks of BCT, but there is something about the last 4-and-a-half weeks – a transformation to where they really want to be like their drill sergeant. Their drill sergeant is the best and can do no wrong. On graduation day, everybody wants to take pictures with their drill sergeant. I think it’s because, deep down, they know their drill sergeant had their best intentions at heart from the get go. Looking back, they know he or she was looking out for them, turning them into a better person.”

Drill sergeants play such an important role in shaping the future Army, and Randall said he is honored to have been selected as the standard-bearer for the drill sergeants at Fort Sill.

“Day in and day out, I am setting the example for all of the drill sergeants to follow,” Randall said. “I’m mentoring, guiding them as needed. And I am the liaison between the drill sergeants and the command team. So anything they need, anything I can do to make their job easier, that’s what I’m here for.”

Randall has plans to create a drill-sergeant parliament to get all of the battalions on the same page. The Drill Sergeant of the Year has the ear of the sergeant major, Stewart explained, and if Randall can get all of the drill sergeants to agree on a need or issue, he can better facilitate a change.

Stewart said she hopes the drill sergeants at Fort Sill learn a lot from Randall during his year as drill sergeant of the year: self-discipline, going by the book, prioritizing their time.

“He is the total 360 of what they are looking for in an NCO,” Stewart said. “He leads by the book, has a very strong presence. He is very knowledgeable, whether we are talking about weapons, drill and ceremony, field operations. He knows it all. He was the prime candidate. He had so many ideas he wanted to bring to the table, things in the program for the drill sergeants in general that he wanted to change. I hate that I lost him, but I’m glad he won it. It was time for him to grow. He was the best person for the job, and I’m not even surprised that he got it. I knew he was going to win it.”

Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year, is already preparing for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Drill Sergeant of the Year competition in September.  “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” Randall said. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year, is already preparing for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Drill Sergeant of the Year competition in September. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” Randall said. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

Army Learning Model changes drill sergeant training

BY DAVID VERGUN
Army News Service

Feedback from the field regarding the Army Drill Sergeant Academy’s change in August 2014 to Army Learning Model training is positive, said Sgt. Maj. Ed Roderiques, the academy’s deputy commandant.

Army Learning Model is the informal name given to “The Army Learning Concept for 2015,” Pamphlet 525-8-2, published by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, and intended for implementation Army-wide.

The academy, located at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, uses drill sergeant leaders to train drill sergeant candidates who, in turn, train recruits at one of the Army’s four training centers, located at Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Jackson and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

The academy also uses the new training model to train platoon sergeant candidates, tasked with follow-on advanced individual training, following basic combat training.

Ever since 1964, when the Drill Sergeant Program was established, legions of drill sergeants have received their training at Fort Jackson.

“Anyone who has been through the [program] can tell you war stories about snapping to and being reminded what it’s like to be a private again,” Roderiques said. “And, it was pretty much like that the whole way through. We were graduating really, really good privates.”

Then last summer, “we flipped the switch to that approach,” Roderiques said, meaning that academy’s commandant, Command Sgt. Maj. Lamont Christian, implemented the new training approach.

Under the Army Learning Model, drill sergeant candidates are put more in charge of their own training. Previously drill sergeant leaders took on the role of drill sergeants and the candidates took on the role of privates, Roderiques said.

Candidates are now given more responsibilities for planning, coordination, resourcing and execution their own training. The role of leaders emphasizes facilitating and mentoring, Roderiques said, providing an example using physical readiness training.

Previously, one candidate at a time led training from the platform, while the candidates executed the exercises, he said.

Now, the candidates take turns on the platform. Each takes a turn leading the exercises on the platform, while other candidates on the ground take turns evaluating each other and offering spot corrections as needed, Roderiques said.

After candidates receive relevant training instructions, they are expected to lead and assess, doing the tasks once done only by the drill sergeant leaders. “The difference is the candidates acting as assistant instructors in making on-the-spot correction in the ranks of the other candidates,” Roderiques said.

Another example involves training at the rifle range, he said. Besides running the candidates through the marksmanship training and re-teaching them basic concepts such as trigger control and sight pictures, they are also given higher-order training processes as well.

Drill sergeant candidates from the active component Army, Army Reserve and National Guard receive on-the-spot corrections from Staff Sgt. Logan Robbins, a drill sergeant leader, on "zero day" at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)
Drill sergeant candidates from the active component Army, Army Reserve and National Guard receive on-the-spot corrections from Staff Sgt. Logan Robbins, a drill sergeant leader, on “zero day” at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton)

For a drill sergeant, teaching new Soldiers to shoot involves more than just hands-on training with a rifle. Drill sergeants must understand the details of such things as safely opening and executing a range training operation, range logistics and resourcing, risk management, first aid requirements, and concurrent training.

“By the time they graduate and get down to the trail, not everything is brand new to them,” Roderiques said. Trail is jargon for the time drill sergeants spend training recruits.

The candidates “didn’t just observe training from a slide, or from part of a larger group, they’ve actually put their hands on it,” he said. “They’ve developed muscle memory and they have a better handle on things.”

The new training approach is especially helpful to noncommissioned officers who come from lower-density military occupational specialties who may not have ever had the opportunity to stand in front of large formations during their time as leaders prior to coming to the academy, Roderiques said.

For example, electronic repair technicians may work in shops with two or three other Soldiers.

“They may have been masters of systems, but they might not be comfortable standing in front of a formation,” Roderiques said. “We get them there. We get them to the comfort level where they can project some presence in front of those Soldiers.”

While the Army Learning Model may have changed the approach to training, the program of instruction, or POI, remains essentially the same, he said. Even so, the POI is updated on a continuing basis as relevant Soldier competencies are validated by the Proponent Development and Integration Division, a TRADOC entity.

Roderiques said he has an appreciation for the role doctrine plays in training requirements, especially since he’s had a recent tour of duty at TRADOC headquarters on Fort Eustis, Virginia. He also has seen the positive changes brought about since he was a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood from 1994 to 1996.

Among the positive changes he said he’s seen is creation of a safer and more secure environment for all recruits, especially females. Roderiques became a drill sergeant in year-two of gender-integrated training.

Lastly, Roderiques said there are openings for drill sergeants if anyone is interested. Besides special duty pay and increasing the chance for promotion, he said the experience itself is priceless.

Drill sergeants train America’s finest fighting men and women, he said. Soldiers remember their drill sergeants, “I certainly do mine. And, I’m sure Soldiers remember me.”

Former drill sergeants invited to attend 50th anniversary events

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

NCOs at Fort Jackson, S.C., are organizing what could be a new Soldier’s worst nightmare: a field full of Soldiers wearing drill sergeant hats.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Army’s drill sergeant training program. Events to commemorate that anniversary are planned to coincide with the 2014 Drill Sergeant and Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 8-13 at Fort Jackson. All former drill sergeants — retired and currently serving — are invited to attend the competition and commemoration.

The competition will take place Sept. 8-10, with the competition winners announced during an awards ceremony Sept. 11. On Sept. 12, there will be an open house at the new U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School campus, as well as a social, said Sgt. Maj. Thomas Campbell, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Va. All former drill sergeants are being asked to wear their drill sergeant hats to the social.

The competitors of the 2011 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition stand in front of the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C. The statue is of Allen Glen Carpenter, who won the first competition in 1969 as a sergeant first class. (NCO Journal file photo)
The competitors of the 2011 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition stand in front of the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C. The statue is of Allen Glen Carpenter, who won the first competition in 1969 as a sergeant first class. (NCO Journal file photo)

“The Drill Sergeant Hat Social is going to be in the center of the Drill Sergeant School campus, in the center of the physical training field,” Campbell said. “Our goal is to get as many drill sergeant hats as we can on the Drill Sergeant School field. We will then have a photo opportunity to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formal Drill Sergeant School program.”

Countless Soldiers have walked by the drill sergeant statue at Fort Jackson, and the Sept. 12 social offers the chance to watch that statue come to life. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Allen Glen Carpenter will be the guest speaker at the social. Not only was Carpenter the Army’s first Drill Sergeant of the Year, he is also the person who the drill sergeant statue is modeled after.

“The unique thing is Sgt. Maj. Carpenter has never seen that statue,” Campbell said. “This will be the first time he actually gets to see it in person. It’s always stood in front of the Fort Jackson drill sergeant school, both at the old location and at the new school. So every drill sergeant who has passed through the doors since the 1980s has walked by Sgt. Maj. Carpenter. And many, many photos have been taken by drill sergeants with him.”

For more information on the competition, open house or social, e-mail Campbell at thomas.e.campbell7.mil@mail.mil or the current Drill Sergeant of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class David Stover, at david.e.stover.mil@mail.mil.