Coral-red dust billows up and rests on several brand-new pairs of brown leather boots as a crowd of new recruits at Fort Jackson, S.C. shuffle into a formation on the Omaha Beach team live-fire range. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Gilbert Dillard Jr., a senior drill sergeant attached to B. Co., 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson, barks orders and the recruits respond with an abrupt sharpness they would not have known just a few weeks earlier.
Dillard is an Army Reserve Soldier from F. Co. 1st Batallion 321st Infantry Regiment out of Lumberton, N.C., and is currently on active duty as a drill sergeant. From his demeanor and his command of the formation, he exudes confidence and commands the attention of the privates as only a drill sergeant with years of experience can. He is a member of a team of Army Reserve drill sergeants serving in support of the Army Reserve's Echo Mission during summer 2017 at Fort Jackson.
Echo Mission, commanded by Capt. Michael Mascari, also part of F. Co. 1st Batallion 321st Infantry Regiment, is a mission supported by the drill sergeants of F. Co. They volunteered for active duty in order to assist in the training of recruits at Fort Jackson.
“Echo mission is an assignment for our drill sergeants to come down during the summer months and to support the active duty drill sergeants here at Fort Jackson, and to get the troops through the summer rush,” says Army Sgt. Penny Buzzella, a junior drill sergeant with F. Co., 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson.
“The summer surge, as we call it,” says Mascari, “is the months during the summer when a larger number of recruits enter Fort Jackson. The need for drill sergeants to balance it out becomes greater. Summer surge equals a need. We have double the number of drill sergeants in the summer so we can train these privates.”
The Soldiers volunteering for Echo Mission do so with the understanding that they will be expected to step seamlessly into the same role as an active duty drill sergeant in the rigorous training environment at Fort Jackson.
More recruits come through Fort Jackson than any other basic training facility in the United States. That means the training environment sustains a higher operations tempo than any other facility, says Cpt. Mascari.
“Fort Jackson is the Army's premier training facility, and we train Soldiers who go to all three components of the Army,” says Army Lt. Col. Jason Pieri, commander of 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson. “It makes sense to combine active duty and Reserve drill sergeants at Fort Jackson. The Reserve drill sergeants maintain currency as drill sergeants and Fort Jackson is able to increase the number of Soldiers who graduate basic combat training each year. It's a great partnership.”
Echo Mission benefits both the active duty drill sergeants and the Army Reserve drill sergeants supporting them. The active duty time provides reserve drill sergeants with opportunities to advance in their careers, in addition to improving their readiness.
“Coming out on the Echo Mission helps my personal career because we don’t get a lot of time on the trail otherwise,” says Buzzella. “If we decide to come down, we get to build up our career and our experience.”
“The benefit that you see, is the fact that you are actually on the ground and you get to have the same knowledge that the active duty counterparts have,” says Dillard. "Standards are the same regardless. When they get that knowledge base, that helps them become a better Soldier and gives them the same professionalism and experience as their active counterparts."
Additionally, the drill sergeants of Echo Mission contribute in another way that strengthens the training environment.
“Army Reserve drill sergeants have a lot of experience,” says Dillard “They have some things that they can bring to the table that maybe some active duty drill sergeants don’t have. Sometimes that knowledge base can help augment what we’re doing with Soldiers.”
“The biggest benefit is that you’re really bringing in people from way more different backgrounds then you would if you only had active component drill sergeants,” says Sgt. Jessica Pate, a junior drill sergeant with F. Co., 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment at Fort Jackson. “Whenever you combine those things, you just have a more well-rounded teacher. You can train other people and share ideas that might not have been brought up.”
The most important aspect of Echo Mission is that the Army Reserve drill sergeants are able to step in and pick up the role of a drill sergeant without interference to the recruits in training, explains Mascari.
“When you go see training in our battalion, you can't tell the difference between the active duty drill sergeants and the reserve drill sergeants,” says Pieri. “We just welcomed our reserve drill sergeants to the battalion from North Carolina. We welcomed them, and the next day they were at the hand grenade qualification course instructing trainees. If you didn't know who our active duty drill sergeants were prior to the training, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.”
"Besides the experience that only comes with time, I haven’t seen much difference between active duty and reserve drill sergeants," said Pate. “These guys come out here, they pay attention to detail, they know how to set up the training, and they’re putting out really good Soldiers.”
“If you come out here and do it the right way," says Pate, "the recruits imitate that and and they bring that to their units. That in turn will help with their readiness."