FORT JACKSON, SC –
People join the military for many reasons. For some it’s a chance to serve their Country while seeing the world. For others, it’s a path to new opportunities through education and experience. And for others, it’s just part of their heritage.
“I joined the Army out of family tradition,” said U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Alycia Perkins, an all-wheeled vehicle mechanic with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 485th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training).
“My aunt was in the Marines. My uncle was in the Air Force. My grandfather was in the Marines AND the Army, and even his father before him…so I wanted to carry on that family tradition and joined the Army,” explained the Columbia, South Carolina resident.
After serving for a few years, the young Soldier realized that serving her Country was not just something that her family did, but it opened up a new world to her.
“My favorite thing about being in the military is the camaraderie and that feeling like I have that second family with the military.”
That extended family helped groom the young Perkins, teaching her to dig deep and find the strength in herself, and looking back, she realized that family-like atmosphere started immediately, in basic training with her drill sergeants.
While going through Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Perkins’ grandmother passed away. Being very close to her grandmother, Perkins found herself struggling with the deep loss.
“That was a really hard time for me,” explained Perkins.
Isolated from her family, her drill sergeants stepped up to help her navigate the pain, confusion and unfortunate decision of whether or not to continue her training.
“I was struggling to make the decision whether to stay and finish out the cycle and become that Soldier—keep doing what I was working towards—or take that break, go to the funeral, spend that family time, and then come back and restart.”
She remembers her drill sergeants taking the time, energy and patience to help her grieve, all while laying out her options that quickly needed to be made.
“They were there for me in a way that was appropriate for the situation and kept me going even though it was very hard for me,” reflected Perkins. “They really helped me put things into perspective of what all I worked for, what my family would want for me, and they helped me keep that motivation. That all had a great impact on me.”
Perkins decided to continue with her training and pushed through her grief by giving all her attention and effort towards becoming a Soldier. Through that, she started to notice all that the drill sergeants did, and began to think it could be a role she wanted to fill one day.
“I saw everything that the drill sergeants did, and I really thought, this would be amazing for me to do too—to be able to teach new incoming Soldiers, to make an impact on somebody’s life.”
Of course, being young and inexperienced, Perkins was still not sure that the drill sergeant path was for her. So after she completed Basic Combat Training, she did some initial research.
“I thought, yes, I want to be a drill sergeant…until I found out you had to go to Basic all over again, and I vaguely remember thinking, no. It’s not worth doing it.”
However, the years passed and Perkins began to develop as a Soldier. She began to notice that the “squared away” Soldiers commanded more respect over those who chose to “get by.” Perkins swore to herself to be a good Soldier, to make a difference. By working through that personal promise, her leadership started to notice her. And, like family, they helped mentor her, pushing her into finding her full potential.
In fact, they believed in her so much, they put her through the 108th Training Command’s Drill Sergeant Candidate Program, a U.S. Army Reserve course that helps Soldiers test and prepare for the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
“The people who I’ve been blessed to be able to work with, have supported me in my career growth. I have learned a lot in my MOS [military occupational specialty] in general, and I’ve had good leadership to steer me to where I am headed right now, the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy.”
That’s right. In the few short years this U.S. Army Reserve Soldier has served, her leaders saw potential and guided her on the path of becoming a drill sergeant, something she briefly considered herself while in training.
So after completing her Bachelor’s Degree, Perkins decided she was in a good place for a change, to move her military career forward, and set a date to attend the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy.
With a date in hand, Perkins started to prepare, mentally and physically. She worked on her physical fitness. She started studying drill sergeant modules (step-by-step instructions on how to execute movements or positions to someone with no military experience). She even asked a soon-to-be drill sergeant for advice when she ran into him off post at a military store.
“He said, ‘modules, modules, modules. Those will be the hardest things.’ So ever since then, that’s what I have been worried about,” said Perkins, looking a bit anxious.
Knowing how to do all the positions and the movements is one thing, but a drill sergeant must know how to instruct on that information, step by step, and that’s the part that worries the nervous, soon-to-be drill sergeant candidate.
“You have to sound loud, proud AND get all the information correct,” said Perkins when explaining the challenge of modules.
Perkins admits to being a bit of a perfectionist too, so getting all the information right is critical to her. And that is one of the things that worry her the most about attending the school—being able to move past her mistakes.
“If there are things that I don’t do as well on, I know how hard I will be on myself, and to be able to put that aside and realize the end goal of getting the hat and badge is what is really important—not necessarily being perfect all the time—that will be the struggle for me to get over personally.”
Earning that drill sergeant hat will give Perkins the opportunity to mentor people, help them transform their lives, like her drill sergeants did for her. And though she knows it’s a taxing path, it’s one she looks forward to.
“I know how intense it can be, and frustrating training civilian people into becoming Soldiers when they have no clue what’s going on, and that’s another thing that motivated me, seeing them put in all that effort—all that caring of helping that civilian into a Soldier—really helped push me.”
To a self-proclaimed perfectionist, the drill sergeant hat is the icon of excellence and knowledge, said Perkins.
“To earn it means hard work and perseverance. Nobody thinks drill sergeant and they got that easy. It’s definitely something earned. Your entire [military] role model is a drill sergeant. They are who the rest of the Army models themselves after. They are the epitome of perfection.”
So as Perkins stands in the Academy grounds the day before school starts, she knows the next nine weeks of her life will be difficult. They will challenge her physically and mentally. They will test her patience, her will and her desire to be the best.
However, she knows all the hard work is a requirement that will help her become, not only a better Soldier, but a drill sergeant, and she welcomes the challenges as part of her growth in deserving the iconic role.
“If you are going to put yourself out there and you want people to see you as the epitome of perfection, as you know what your are doing, and actually being worth being in the position, then you should put in the work to be there.”
Of course, expecting and welcoming the challenges does not make them any easier. Standing there at the Academy, Perkins admits to feeling both excited and extremely nervous.
“I feel like this is definitely one of those things you can only prepare so much for. You are kind of thrown into the fire—a make it or break it type of thing—and I think… It’s definitely not going to be easy. I expect this to be challenging. I expect it to be rewarding, but I do not expect this to be easy. And now, I am here and ready to go for it.”