Tag Archives: Fort Sill

Students at Fort Sill NCO Academy test their skills during live fire exercise

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Field artillery Soldiers attending the Advanced Leader Course at the NCO Academy at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, don’t just worry about tests at the end of the course. They feel the boom of a cannon and smell its smoke as they demonstrate their expertise and leadership skills during a live fire exercise.

Soldiers in all field artillery and air defense artillery career management fields come through the NCO Academy, but those with military occupational specialties directly involved in the operation of howitzers – including 13B cannon crewmembers, 13M multiple launch rocket system crewmembers, 13P MLRS operations/fire direction specialists and 13D field artillery automated tactical data system specialists – have the added advantage of hands-on training in that live fire environment.

A student in the Advanced Leader Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, holds up the three excess gunpowder bags that were not needed for the four-increment charge during live-fire training on an M119A2 howitzer. The action serves as a visual confirmation for the section chief that the crew loaded the correct charge. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
A student in the Advanced Leader Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, holds up the three excess gunpowder bags that were not needed for the four-increment charge during live-fire training on an M119A2 howitzer. The action serves as a visual confirmation for the section chief that the crew loaded the correct charge. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“Throughout the course, we touch on all the things they will need to be howitzer section chiefs,” said Sgt. 1st Class Craig Dalen, senior small group leader, master gunner and NCO in charge of the ALC live fire exercise. “They learn the doctrine in their classes. Then the live fire is what we call the capstone or the culminating event of the class, where they put everything they have learned into firing the howitzers safely and accurately and are then able to go back to their unit and spread the knowledge to other NCOs in their battery.”

The live fire is a great opportunity for the students, Dalen said, especially for those who work outside of their MOS.

“We get such a diverse group of NCOs who come here, and they are not necessarily in a section chief position,” said 1st Sgt. Antonio Morris, ALC first sergeant. “Some of them are working in training rooms or administration jobs, some are recruiters, some are drill sergeants, NCOs with various duty assignments across the globe. One of the major benefits is that when they come here, they get that training they have been missing. This is their opportunity to get reacquainted with what they will be doing on the line. It is definitely a plus – they get up-to-date on their training, up-to-speed with their peers, then go back out to the force and are better able to groom their section or that lieutenant who is with them. They will be better at their jobs when they leave here.”

Throughout the five-week course, NCOs’ leadership skills are evaluated. Students take turns leading formations and physical training and acting as section chiefs, who are responsible for prepping the guns and ensuring the others know the crew drills. The section chief is the one to give the OK, saying, yes, they have the capability to fire.

“I want students to come out of this course knowing Army doctrine,” Dalen said. “Every unit has its own standard operating procedures, but here they learn the base and core elements of field artillery by the manual. They learn what right looks like, what a real crew drill is. Their unit will dictate how they do it, but there are certain things by manual that they are not supposed to change. And the students get a better grasp of what really is safe and unsafe, authorized and not authorized.”

The culminating event

Fort Sill’s is the only NCO academy in the Army that provides a live fire exercise. It is important, Morris said, because the skills required in field artillery are perishable. To solidify the lessons learned throughout the course and ensure NCOs are prepared for combat, the students need to get out there and actually do what will be required of them, he said.

“This is the culminating event,” Morris said. “Everything they learn over the first five weeks they take that out to a field environment and put into action. The dry fire missions, the rehearsals, the crew drills, they all lead up to the live fire. It’s like ending with an exclamation mark.”

A student in the Advanced Leader Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, looks through the sites of an M119A2 howitzer during a live fire exercise at the end of the course. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
A student in the Advanced Leader Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, looks through the sites of an M119A2 howitzer during a live fire exercise at the end of the course. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

During the live fire, students fire 155 mm rounds and 105 mm rounds and utilize all three artillery pieces used in Army units: the M777 howitzer, the M119 howitzer – both degraded and digital – and the M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer. The instructors try to ensure each NCO works with the howitzer on which he or she is least familiar.

Every crew has a loader, or “No. 1 man,” a gunner and a section chief. Depending on the howitzer a crew is working on, there may also be an assistant gunner, an ammunition crew and a driver. After every two or three rounds, the students rotate through the positions so each has the opportunity to act in a leadership role.

“The live fire is very valuable to this course because as things upgrade and change, we have to adapt with them,” said Sgt. Benjamin Murray, a student in the course. “It’s better to do things hands-on rather than just out of a book, because there are things you won’t understand completely until you actually see it and see how it’s done.

“And, it will make it easy for us to PCS to another unit with a different piece because we will have a better understanding of what it is that they do and how their crew drills and everything are run. If I have only worked on one piece, I may go to a new place and their lowest-ranking Soldier knows more than I do about how to do the crew drills. That just doesn’t reflect well. So having this course, being able to jump on each piece, it helps us out and keeps us up-to-date.”

Sgt. Jose Medina, another student, agreed.

“If you don’t know the gun, how are you going to be in charge of that section and teach your Soldiers?”

NCOs in officer roles

In addition to the benefit of hands-on practice, the live fire gives instructors a way to gauge the effectiveness of the course, Morris explained. How do they know the training is working? Are the students learning all of the lessons they need to be prepared for combat? It is easy to sit in class and take tests, Morris said, but that is not what will be required of them in the field.

“We find out how effective our curriculum is by how well the NCOs do at the live fire,” Morris said. “The live fire is not a graduation requirement, but it is a test. It tells us what is working well. Based on their performance, we adjust the curriculum if needed.”

Morris said he is proud of his NCO instructors and how they have taken charge of the course and live fire. In a combat situation, as well as in any other live fire training scenario, officers would be present to verify calculations, ensure safety and give the OK to fire. At the ALC live fire, however, NCOs fill those roles.

“It is definitely an eye opener, because you never get to see this anywhere else where it is all NCOs fulfilling those roles,” Morris said. “It is a testament to the knowledge that these NCOs have. They are the trainer, the evaluator, the overseer. They are facilitating it.”

“The benefit of having all NCOs is that the Soldiers are getting it from guys who have been there, who have done what they are doing,” Dalen said. “And it also shows they are learning from true professionals. It shows the students and the Army as a whole that NCOs are more than capable of executing fire missions and anything else we would have to do if need be.”

Army’s first female cannoneer finishes top of class, praises NCOs for their support

By CINDY MCINTYRE
Fort Sill Tribune

Sometimes a person is just in the right place at the right time.

And so it was for Pfc. Katherine Beatty when she learned her chosen military occupational specialty in signal intelligence wasn’t going to work out. Then came an offer too good to pass up.

Why not be the Army’s first female cannoneer?

Pfc. Katherine Beatty is the U. S. military’s first woman to become a cannon crewmember. (Photo by Cindy McIntyre / Fort Sill Tribune)
Pfc. Katherine Beatty is the U. S. military’s first woman to become a cannon crewmember. (Photo by Cindy McIntyre / Fort Sill Tribune)

“They said I could pick a different MOS,” she said of her nine-week holdover after basic combat training. The combat specialty of 13B cannon crewmember was on the list.

“They said there was a lot of heavy lifting, and it’s a pretty high-speed job, and I would be the first female,” she said. “I was pretty excited about it. I called my husband (in Inverness, Florida) He’s infantry and works side by side with 13 Bravos. He told me what to expect, and I just went for it.”

Not only did she pass, she excelled, earning the title of distinguished honor graduate for Class No. 12-16. She was assistant platoon guide and helped teach her peers. She also earned the top scores in several exams and passed her go/no go events, including the High Physical Demand Test, the first time.

She said none of it was easy, especially the first week.

The Army’s new HPDT was in place for the first time, and men and women both need to pass it to graduate from 13B school.

She said the most difficult task was loading and unloading 15 155mm ammunition shells, weighing nearly 100 pounds apiece.

“That was pretty tough,” she said. “We had 15 minutes to do it.”

That means moving 3,000 pounds – a feat even some men couldn’t do.

Pfc. Katherine Beatty’s platoon fired three shells apiece to qualify on the M119A3 howitzer during live-fire training March 1, 2016 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Cindy McIntyre / Fort Sill Tribune)
Pfc. Katherine Beatty’s platoon fired three shells apiece to qualify on the M119A3 howitzer during live-fire training March 1, 2016 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Cindy McIntyre / Fort Sill Tribune)

“I did power lifting and trained with my husband, Charles (before enlisting),” she said of her ability to pass the test. She also went to the gym in her spare time while at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. She said Charles is her hero because of all the support he’s given her.

Beatty earned high praise from her primary AIT instructor, Staff Sgt. Michael Prater, as well as her battle buddies.

“She’s held her own as an APG, as far as leading the Soldiers where they need to be, keeping up with who’s on sick call, who’s in formation, and who’s not,” Prater said after her platoon’s live-fire training in March. “She took good notes and kept up with the training. Pfc. Beatty was an excellent Soldier.”

Pvt. Marc Etinne, one of Beatty’s battle buddies, said initially he wasn’t sure how things were going to work out with a woman in a combat MOS.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be interesting,’” he said. “But then the sergeant talked to us and said anybody in Army green, we have to treat them with respect. She really surprises me with all the physical stuff she can do. She’s been treated just like everybody else. She’s a great Soldier.”

Another battle buddy, Pvt. Jesse Hurtado, agreed. He said having a woman in his 13B class was “awesome.”

“She worked a lot harder than the males did at some point,” he said. “She proved herself. She made her battle buddies push harder because she was there pushing with them. She’s an inspiration, seeing her going through what we’re doing. We all love her. She’s an awesome battle buddy. We all want her to do great in her career.”

Beatty’s platoon specialized in the 105mm lightweight towed M119A3 howitzer. Even though those shells weigh about 30 pounds, all 13B Soldiers need to be able to meet the physical standard with the 155mm shells used in the M777 and the Paladin howitzers. They also need to be able to drag a casualty in combat, so part of the HPDT is to drag a 270-pound skid 20 meters out and back.

Although the physical part of training was grueling, Beatty said she loved it. She and her husband have taken their 2-year-old daughter hiking and lead an active life, she said. Being the first woman wasn’t as much of an obstacle as she thought.

“Everyone treats me like a Soldier, like part of the team,” she said. “There was a lot of positivity from my platoon, the instructors, the NCOs. It’s been really awesome.”

Pfc. Katherine Beatty records firing data during dry-fire training Feb. 24, 2016, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, during 13B cannon crewmember school. (Photo by Cindy McIntyre / Fort Sill Tribune)
Pfc. Katherine Beatty records firing data during dry-fire training Feb. 24, 2016, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, during 13B cannon crewmember school. (Photo by Cindy McIntyre / Fort Sill Tribune)

Week 4 of training was hands-on dry fire with the M119A3. March 1, her class fired on the equipment they were trained on. Booms from the M777 and the Paladin interspersed with shots fired from Beatty’s team. Finally, it was her turn.

She fired three rounds, then caught the next gunner’s smoking cartridge when it was ejected, and spent time on the radio and recording firing data. When the last round was called, Prater took out a marker and began writing on the shell. Pens materialized and everyone squeezed in to leave their message on it. Beatty’s read “Miss 13B.”

Then she returned to the radio and called, “last round!” The excited cannoneers echoed her, and rushed the round into the chamber. Prater checked the round, held up his hand, and yelled, “stand by,” for the umpteenth time that day. Then he dropped his arm and yelled, “fire!” The round sped off into the distant hillside, and everyone cheered. Then they started tearing down and had a late lunch of meals, ready to eat.

“Everyone was excited in our platoon. I can definitely say that we had a lot of fun today. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Beatty said.

Although she hoped to go to Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., Beatty was assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado, following her graduation March 11.

Dozens of women have followed in Beatty’s footsteps to train as 13Bs, and plenty more are still to come. Her advice to them: “Go for it. It’s an awesome job. You’ve got to be strong, both physically and mentally, but there’s definitely a lot of support here.”

Pfc. Katherine Beatty gives tips to her teammate, who is holding four excess gunpowder bags that weren’t needed for the three-increment charge during live-fire training on the M119A3 howitzer in March at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Cindy McIntyre / Fort Sill Tribune)
Pfc. Katherine Beatty gives tips to her teammate, who is holding four excess gunpowder bags that weren’t needed for the three-increment charge during live-fire training on the M119A3 howitzer in March at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Cindy McIntyre / Fort Sill Tribune)

NCOs create smooth transition for women integrating into Field Artillery

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Since February, women have been proving that they have what it takes to be 13B cannon crewmembers, and their NCOs have been guaranteeing each an equal opportunity to rise to the challenge.

“When I first picked this military occupational specialty, I had sergeants telling me it was going to be very hard, that there are going to be males who don’t want me in this job,” said Pvt. Kiara Carbullido, who graduated in June from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. “But then they said there will be NCOs who are going to look out for your best interests and push you to be your best, and I think that is exactly what our sergeants have done for us. They are helping us out, making everything equal between the males and the females. Whatever they can do, we can do.”

Pvt. Natasha Madison holds up the four excess gunpowder bags that were not needed for the three-increment charge during live-fire training on the M119A3 howitzer in May at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Pvt. Natasha Madison holds up the four excess gunpowder bags that were not needed for the three-increment charge during live-fire training on the M119A3 howitzer in May at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

The move to open most field artillery MOSs, including 13Bs, to women came in the fall of 2015, months before the decision was made in January to open all combat arms positions to women. The first female cannon crewmember, Pvt. First Class Katherine Beatty, graduated from AIT at the top of her class in March.

Many AIT platoon sergeants at Fort Sill said they never expected to see women in field artillery positions during their careers. All of them, however, said the gender integration training is going well and expressed a positive hope for the future of women in their MOS.

“Before I retire in the next few years, I would love to see one of the females here today become an NCO, become a staff sergeant, become a section chief,” said 1st Sgt. Marlow Parks, first sergeant of C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery Regiment. “I can’t wait to see that, to be honest with you. I’m proud that I have had some kind of part in it, making sure that Soldier initially got the foundation she needed in order to advance. To me, it’s a very rewarding job for me and my cadre to train these females, to see the Army change to where we are today. It’s good. When I am long gone and retired, I can see a female command sergeant major in field artillery. She may be here now; you never know. The sky is the limit for all of these Soldiers, male or female.”

AIT for 13Bs

Throughout the first three weeks of AIT, 13Bs learn about the equipment they will be required to use in their jobs. The first week covers the basics of communication. They learn the ins and outs of the radios and how to record firing data. During the second week, they study the ammunition they will fire – 105mm or 155mm rounds – and how to calculate targets. In the third week, they are introduced to the three artillery pieces they may work with: the M777 howitzer, the M119A3 howitzer, and the M109 Paladin self-propelled howitzer.

In the remaining two weeks of AIT, the Soldiers must apply the knowledge they have gained in real-life scenarios and learn how to work as a team. During the fourth week, each platoon takes their specified howitzer into a field near the motor pool for dry-fire training. The Soldiers run crew drills for the first time on the actual weapon. A live fire is conducted during the fifth and final week of training, and each crewmember must fire three shells to qualify on one of the howitzers.

No matter which howitzer a platoon works with, each crewmember must pass the High Physical Demand Test to graduate from AIT. The test levels the playing field, said Staff Sgt. Michael Prater, an AIT instructor for C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery. It’s difficult, and the requirements are the same. Both men and women are graded on the same scale.

Pvt. Nareisha George prepares an ammunition round for a fuse during live-fire training in May at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Pvt. Nareisha George prepares an ammunition round for a fuse during live-fire training in May at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“I have no problem with females being integrated into this MOS,” Prater said. “They are just like any other individual. It depends on whether they can stand up to the physical demands of being a 13B. That’s the reason they have to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test as soon as they get here, and then they go into the HPDT, where I have seen males fail just as much as females. It depends on the physical attributes of that person. Are they able to handle that stress? Able to handle those different MOS-related activities?”

Among other strenuous tasks in the HPDT, Soldiers must demonstrate their ability to load and unload 15 ammunition shells in 15 minutes. Each 155mm shell weighs about 100 pounds, so Soldiers are effectively moving 3,000 pounds in 15 minutes – a difficult feat, regardless of gender.

“It feels amazing to be one of the first females here,” said Pvt. Jennifer Moreira, who also graduated in June. “The men aren’t used to it – they don’t expect us to do much, and it feels good to prove them wrong. They tend to say, ‘Oh, hey, let me get this.’ No. We’ve got it. I like to prove them wrong. It’s challenging, and these rounds are heavy, but our NCOs treat us all equally. They give us the opportunity to prove ourselves, and I think we all take advantage of that and prove we can pull our own weight. I am proud of all of us females. I am proud of what we can do.”

Carbullido said she and the other women in her class would never use their femininity as a crutch or an excuse. They are more concerned with proving their worth. They chose this MOS because they know they have what it takes, she said. They don’t want any handouts.

“In this job I feel like, finally, I can do something the same as guys – protecting my family and the United States of America,” Carbullido said. “It’s badass. I’m so honored to be a female in field artillery.”

Sgt. Shannon Johnson, a platoon sergeant for C battery, 1st battalion, 78th Field Artillery, said he had heard NCOs express concerns that women would try to get away with doing less than their male battle buddies. However, the opposite has proven true.

Pvt. Bethany May communicates with her crew on the radio while Pvt. Michael Richardson records firing data during live-fire training at the end of AIT in May at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Pvt. Bethany May communicates with her crew on the radio while Pvt. Michael Richardson records firing data during live-fire training at the end of AIT in May at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

“The physical demands testing has pretty much changed everybody’s views of having females in artillery because – you would be surprised – most females are able to pass it, and some males are not,” Johnson said. “There is always a technique. I have had big males that fail it. And smaller females come in here and just knock it out, first time go, with ease. I think most males think, ‘I’m strong; I’ve got this. I don’t need to prep for it.’ But the females come in, and we have rounds laying around. You see them on the weekends practicing, because they feel like they have to go the extra mile to prove they are worthy of being 13B cannon crewmembers. In my opinion, they are way ahead of the game.

“For all of our Soldiers, their hard work is worth it when they actually shoot that first round and see the cannon go off,” he said. “We had some females shoot for the first time last week. That look on their face – yeah. It is worth the hard work they put in to it. I always tell them the hardest part is prepping to go to the field. Once you are out there and are shooting and you see the camaraderie of the team coming together, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m part of something pretty awesome.’”

Adjustments for leadership

For Soldiers new to the Army, working alongside women is all they have known. But senior leadership will feel the minor adjustments, Johnson said.

Practical changes had to be made, including providing separate living quarters and separate outhouses in the field, and before the first woman attended AIT, leadership was required to complete a refresher course on Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention.

“I haven’t had to make too many changes,” Prater said. “Some things, like porta-potties, we have to label them to make sure the males don’t go into the porta-potties that the females use. Sick call is a little different. If a female has a female problem she has to take care of or go see a doctor about, that’s different, as opposed to a regular sprained foot or something to that nature. But training is no different. They wear the same ear plugs, eat the same MREs. So it’s just minor adjustments we have had to make as instructors.”

Pvt. Elisa Chaboya was one of 16 women in a class of 75 Soldiers who graduated June 3 from Advanced Individual Training as 13B cannon crewmembers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Pvt. Elisa Chaboya was one of 16 women in a class of 75 Soldiers who graduated June 3 from Advanced Individual Training as 13B cannon crewmembers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

Staff Sgt. Allan Avendrano agreed the changes have felt minor, but said the overall experience has challenged him to be a better, more professional leader.

“Learning to lead females has definitely rounded me out as a leader, as an NCO. I never thought – not once – in my career, ever, that I was going to have female Soldiers to lead. I’ve been in the Army for 11 years, and this is my first time leading them, teaching them. And the No. 1 adjustment I had to make has got to be my language,” he said with a laugh. “You can ask anybody on the gun line, and I’m fairly sure that is going to be the first thing they will say. They have to clean up their language a little bit more, but that comes with professionalism.”

“‘Stop crying like a little girl’ is something you would never say with females in your platoon,” Johnson said. “No belittling language. We see the females work just as hard, and our language should reflect respect.”

Parks said he tells his NCOs to remain confident in their leadership skills. The Army has prepared them well for this. The NCO Creed states “All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will provide that leadership. … I will be fair and impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.” As long as they follow TRADOC Regulation 350-6 [Enlisted Initial Entry Training Policies and Administration,] he said, they will do well.

“If you’ve got one standard for the male, it should be the same for the female. That is what I tell all my instructors. If you are a hard NCO, continue to be as hard with the female Soldiers as you would with the male Soldiers. Go from the book. Go from the manual. You will be all right.”

Since February, women have been integrating into the 13B Cannon Crewmember military occupational specialty. Pvt. Natasha Madison was one of 16 females in a class of 75 Soldiers who graduated June 3 from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Since February, women have been integrating into the 13B Cannon Crewmember military occupational specialty. Pvt. Natasha Madison was one of 16 females in a class of 75 Soldiers who graduated June 3 from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

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)