The Making of a Drill Sergeant: Episode 2 - Going to the Drill Sergeant Academy

By Maj. Michelle Lunato | 98th Training Division -Initial Entry Training | Oct. 8, 2019

FORT JACKSON, SC —

(This is the second article in a three-part series. Episode 1 - Meet Sgt. Perkins can be found at https://www.usar.army.mil/News/News-Display/Article/1955358/the-making-of-a-drill-sergeant-meet-sgt-alycia-perkins.)

Standing before the academy, she paused and collected her thoughts. Once she walked through the doors, it would be full throttle, game-face action. She’d be challenged, mentally and physically. And she’d have to dig deep and move past her comfort zone.

After nine long weeks, all the hard work could pay off though. She’d come out of those doors different. She’d be stronger and more confident. Her life and career path would inevitably change.

With that all in mind, Sgt. Alycia Perkins grabbed her duffel bags and headed towards the doors of the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

The U.S. Army Reserve noncommissioned officer had prepared all she could and it was time to see if she was ready for the next phase of her Army career. She knew the role of drill sergeant would not be easy. In fact, Perkins explained that she anticipated the role of drill sergeant would require more than just physical strength. To be successful, she’d need mental and emotional endurance as well. “It takes a lot of toll to be a drill sergeant—not that I’ve had the experience yet—but I can see how exhausting it must be,” said the all-wheeled vehicle mechanic from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 485th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training).

Strength and stamina will not be the only requirements though, said the Soldier who hails from Columbia, South Carolina. The drill sergeant candidate expected she would need to have knowledge and experience as well. “The Army is always changing and to be able to keep up with whatever comes at you, and adjust and reset yourself to keep going with the times is important.”

Of course, all the strength, stamina and knowledge will get a drill sergeant nowhere if they don’t have patience, said Perkins prior to signing in at the Academy. Most Army recruits are young and with youth, there is typically a level of immaturity. Add in being away from loved ones and the rigors of combat training, it's bound to make dealing with trainees stressful at times, explained the drill sergeant candidate. “To be able to maintain your military bearing, continue to train and provide them with everything they need to learn, while at the same time not losing it, I feel like it is pretty important to have that patience as a drill sergeant.”

Patience is one quality that Perkins admits to struggling with though. “Not that I am impatient or short-tempered, but I just know how hard that can be. That’s just something you have to build over time I think,” she explained prior to school.

In fact, during Week 3 of the Drill Sergeant Academy, the patience Perkins’ was trying to establish was tested. There was a miscommunication error during the hectic pace of tasks that resulted in some of her Soldiers being late to formation. As the leader, she took the responsibility and the counseling statement. While not a school-ending mistake, the consulting statement meant that no matter how well she performed in the following five weeks, Perkins would not be eligible for the Commandant’s List. To the self-proclaimed perfectionist, this was extremely frustrating.

Prior to school, the drill sergeant candidate confessed that she’s typically hard on herself when she make mistakes, and this time was no different. “It took a lot to stay motivated because I had a very high grade point average, one of the top 10 in the class.” Perkins said she had to dig deep and after her initial self scolding, accept her mistake and lack of absolute perfection. I finally had to realize that once I was on the trail, no one was going to ask if I graduated on the Commandant’s List, said Perkins. “One counseling statement will not make me less of a drill sergeant.”

As time at the Academy passed, Perkins could not help but notice the varying motivation levels of other drill sergeant candidates, who came from all different job skills and parts of the United States. “I’ve noticed that here at the Drill Sergeant Academy, obviously adhering to standards is very important, but motivation is [equally] important. And lack of motivation is not going to get you anywhere.”

For those attending the Drill Sergeant Academy in the future, regardless of being a Department of the Army selected candidate or an accepted volunteer, Perkins offered some advice. “Come here and give it your all. They give you everything, all the tools to be successful. All you have to do is apply yourself.”

And specifically for those Citizen-Warriors who want to challenge themselves and become a drill sergeant, Perkins suggested coming prepared to work hard, because in the end, the role of drill sergeant is same across the Army. “Trainees should not be able to differentiate between Active [Duty] and Reserve because that’s saying that you have the option to put in less than everybody else, and that’s not the case,” stated the Reserve noncommissioned officer. “A Reservist doesn’t mean that you are any less, that you should put in half the effort because you are there half the time. And it doesn’t mean the standard should be any easier.”

Though the end result of becoming a drill sergeant is the same for either component, Perkins learned that noncommissioned officers from each component bring something different to the table. Reserve Soldiers must learn to balance the demands of both civilian and military jobs, along with their family life. “Being able to balance all that is a skill I feel like Active Duty Soldiers don’t necessarily really need as much.”

It’s not that Active Duty Soldiers don’t have challenges, of course they do. But at the end of the day, they have one job, not two, explained Perkins. The differences are not more or less challenging or relevant, they merely build a different set of strengths in people. The Active Duty Soldiers have the edge of experience from more hands-on training while the Reserve Soldiers have the edge of flexibility and resiliency from juggling competing demands, said Perkins.

Regardless of component, Perkins explained that deciding to become a drill sergeant requires a great amount of dedication. “This is a job you need to be fully committed to. It requires a lot of time, mental and physical energy, and patience.”

Whether the Drill Sergeant Academy was more mentally or physically taxing may depend on the candidate asked or the week’s events. In one week, there was a field training exercise, a physical fitness test, a 12-mile road march and a 6-mile forced ruck with stuff to carry, said Perkins the day before graduation. “So by the end of that week, I was completely drained. And then, we had combatives the next week. So there was a lot of physical stuff towards the end, but overall in terms of the course, it was definitely [more] mental.”

A portion of the mental stress at the Academy is the level of responsibility that comes with the drill sergeant job, something that must be taken seriously, according to Perkins. “We are defending that legacy, those customs and courtesies that the Army has had since the beginning, and we are instilling it into people who have had no prior training. We are molding them into being Soldiers who will go forward and defend the Country.”

Creating that next generation of Soldiers out of civilians requires a great amount of energy, passion and dedication. In a few short weeks, drill sergeants must not only build a base line of Soldier skills, but they must exemplify the Army culture. “You are building that camaraderie, that trust in the Army from the get-go,” explained Perkins. “You are their everything. You are their first impression of what it is to be a Soldier, what it means to be in the Army.”

A Soldier’s journey in the Army may start at Basic Combat Training, but that is just their beginning. It is no different for a drill sergeant completing the Academy, according to Perkins. “When I put on the [drill sergeant] hat, it set it into reality for me. It made it tangible,” said the brand new drill sergeant after graduation. This may have been the end of the journey for Sgt. Perkins, but it is just the beginning for Drill Sergeant Perkins.

“There’s a lot more. It’s not just what you present out necessarily as far as knowledge, stature and physical ability, but the responsibility of what comes behind that is what you learn here in the school,” said Perkins. “You don’t learn how to be a drill sergeant—you learn that on the trail, but you get the tools necessary to help you complete that job here.”

So earning the drill sergeant hat, badge and title is just the first step in this noncommissioned officer’s journey and she’s already looking on to step two—time with trainees.

“I have to get that time on the trail to really feel like I have completed, or started to complete, that mission I have for myself. I am very motivated to get out and apply what I have learned. I am excited for sure. Before, I was all nerves. Now, I am just super excited to get out and make that positive impact.”