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NEWS | Sept. 24, 2015

Army icon turns 51

By Story by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton 108th Training Command- Initial Entry Training

FORT JACKSON, S.C. - From time to time, when you reflect upon your military service there are many people, places and events you may have forgotten. But the one person you will never forget is your drill sergeant.

They led the charge in molding and mentoring you into what you are today.

They transformed you from an ordinary citizen into a Soldier with the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.

For everyone in the Army, they’re a symbol of both pride and discipline. They are firm but fair. They are feared but admired.

They are an Army icon, and this year, they turned 51.

At an event on Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Sept. 11, 2015, drill sergeants past and present came together to pay tribute to the fallen but also celebrate the legacy of this great institution that has stood at the front door of the Army for 51 years now.

“This is probably the toughest yet most rewarding duty a Soldier can do. For many if not all, this is the highlight of a career,” said Sgt. Maj. Ed Roderiques, United States Army Drill Sergeant Academy deputy commandant and active Guard and Reserve Soldier. “This demonstrates the importance of the drill sergeant program and what being a drill sergeant means to those who have served in the position.”

In 1962, then Secretary of the Army, Cyrus Vance, ordered a survey to be conducted of recruits training in the Army. The results of this study were mostly negative. The study found that the noncommissioned officers that served in the Army Training Centers at the time were held in low regard. The training was inadequate and fell far below the standards the other services such as the Marine Corps and Navy received.

In an effort to alleviate the shortcomings found during the study, Stephen Ailes, the Assistant Secretary of the Army and Vance’s eventual successor, developed a pilot program at Fort Jackson consisting of a select group of officers and noncommissioned officers.

The results of this pilot program were so successful that the Army adopted the Drill Sergeant program in late 1964 and the first drill sergeant school was established at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Since that time, the school has undergone many transformations.

For close to a decade male noncommissioned officers, solely, attended the training. Then, late in 1971, officials at the Continental Army Command received permission to include women. In February 1972, six female noncommissioned officers from the Women’s Army Corps at Fort McClellan, Alabama became the first females to enter the program at Fort Jackson.

Today, there is only one school, the United States Army Drill Sergeant Academy located at Fort Jackson, and it not only trains drill sergeants but Advanced Initial Training platoon sergeants as well.

Today, the Army sought fit to celebrate this storied program and the long list of contributions it has made towards the advancement of the American Soldier as a combat force multiplier, caretaker of peace, and defender of freedom.

Among the long list of distinguished attendees at the event were members of the original class of the first drill sergeants, Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, United States Army Center for Initial Military Training commanding general, Command. Sgt. Maj. Dennis Woods, United States Army Center for Initial Military Training command sergeant major and Dr. Galen Grant.

Grant, a former drill sergeant from 1977 to 1979 and again from 1982 to 1985, was the first female to be selected as drill sergeant of the year in 1983 and has been highly regarded as a trailblazer for women’s equality in the Army having served at the United States Military Academy at West Point as an administrative clerk in 1976, consequently the very first year women were admitted as cadets at the prestigious military academy.

“I think this is really great. We are the ones who determined what the Army was going to be through the Soldiers that we trained. For me at the time there was no better job that I could do as a woman in the Army than being a drill sergeant,” Grant said. “I love seeing my peers and I love seeing drill sergeants, especially seeing the job that they are doing.”

The night progressed and the pomp and circumstance of the significance of this great event faded. But one question lingered on everyone’s mind in attendance. After 51 years, what’s next?

Going forward, Roderiques sees the active component more dependent on the Army Reserve to continue the legacy that has evolved into institution that has.

“Any excess in TRADOC has been stripped out. There is no more excess. The Army Reserve Drill Sergeant program now carries a greater responsibility. The next time the Army needs to expand for any type of contingency operation, the Army is going to be highly dependent on the Army Reserve to fulfill the end strength requirements, whatever that might be. The active component is not going to be able to go it alone. We’ve seen it before. That’s where the program is headed.”

Only time will tell if the deputy's vision will come to pass, but for now the old Soldiers and mentors bask in their glory and congratulate each other on a job well done, 51-years strong, 51-years Army strong.