Basic Camp

Drill sergeants set the tone at course’s start

The image of a Leader's Training Course cadet reflects in the sunglasses of Staff Sergeant Sergio Mesa, a drill sergeant with Bravo Company at LTC. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

The image of a Leader’s Training Course cadet reflects in the sunglasses of Staff Sergeant Sergio Mesa, a drill sergeant with Bravo Company at LTC. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

By Crystal Allen
Leader’s Training Course

As soon as the bus full of Cadets arrived to the Leader’s Training Course, drill sergeants
welcomed Cadets in a manner only drill sergeants can: By yelling.

From the outset, those Soldiers in the brown round hats circled the bus, expressing a sense of urgency. “Get off the bus!” one commanded. “Hurry!” they ordered.

Many Cadets didn’t expect such forcefulness. Some donned dress clothes and even high heels. A rush of Cadets were trying to grab their bags as many, scurrying from the bus, were falling down.

Drill sergeants, such as Sgt. 1st Class Vernon Williams, a senior drill sergeant with Bravo
Company, got up close and personal as Cadets were ordered into formation.

Sergeant First Class Vernon Williams, Bravo Company drill sergeant. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

Sergeant First Class Vernon Williams, Bravo Company drill sergeant. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

“I was pretty nervous seeing the drill sergeants,” said Cadet Minsog Ryu, a junior at the University of Southern California. “This is my first time ever experiencing something like this.”

Drill sergeants play a key role during the Leader’s Training Course, indoctrinating Cadets to the Army during their first few days of training. Throughout that period, known as the Soldier First phase, drill sergeants teach students everything from how to make their bunks, military customs and traditions and how to march.

Many people view drill sergeants as someone who is tough, likes to yell and is demanding on those they lead. And many of the 52 cadre members of Bravo Company say the drills fit that stereotype. But there is a reason for the stern approach — to build these Cadets into Soldiers and leaders.
“It’s not that I’m unemotional, it’s that I’m mission-focused,” Williams said. “You want a drill
sergeant that can empathize without sympathize. You want a drill sergeant that understands that under any circumstances, the mission comes first.”

In fact, you might say the Bravo Company drill sergeants, all of them Reservists, are among the most compassionate people you can find. In their civilian jobs, they save lives as police officers and firefighters, and when they assume their roles as drill sergeants, they’re building the future leaders of the U.S. Army, who will go on to protect others.

Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Cadavid, another Bravo senior drill sergeant, is a fireman for his civilian job. Both positions require teamwork and an emphasize safety, he said.

Sergeant First Class Glen Cadavid, Bravo Company drill sergeant. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

Sergeant First Class Glen Cadavid, Bravo Company drill sergeant. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

“My favorite part of being a drill sergeant is seeing a Soldier initially as they come in as a civilian and as they transition, as we mold them into Soldiers and having a final product as Soldiers and leaders,” Cadavid said.

Like Cadavid, Williams’ life revolves around helping others. As a police officer, his job is similar to a drill sergeant because he’s helping protect Americans, he said.While he’s on duty, his primary focus is strengthening the Army.

“My favorite part of my job is just educating and training,” Williams said. “My main concern is building the Army and future leaders.”

Cadavid and Williams, along with other drill sergeants, came to Fort Knox last week from Miami.

Becoming a drill sergeant isn’t easy. In the Army career ladder, it’s similar to a promotion. Receiving a spot at the Drill Sergeant School is one of the highest honors a non-commissioned officer can have. The schooling is a more intense version of Basic Combat Training to ensure drill sergeants are experts who can properly teach basic Soldier skills to future Cadets.

Although the Drill Sergeant School curriculum isn’t necessarily designed to intimidate trainees, the drill sergeants do. Ryu said when he arrived, he tried avoiding them as much as possible.

The fear is starting to go away, he said.

Once the Cadets step off the bus in front of their barracks and the drill sergeants get up close and personal, Cadets fear what they’ve never known, said Staff Sgt. Sergio Mesa, a drill sergeant with Bravo Company.

Staff Sergeant Sergio Mesa, Bravo Company drill sergeant. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

Staff Sergeant Sergio Mesa, Bravo Company drill sergeant. Photo by Jeremy Aaron.

“Most of them don’t know exactly what it’s like to be in the day-to-day life of a Soldier,” he said.

To graduate from LTC, Cadets have to successfully complete a rigorous 28 days. Along the way, the drill sergeants learn some of the Cadets’ individual characteristics, helping them learn what motivates each person, Cadavid said.

One of the ways Williams motivates Cadets is leading by example, he said. If he tells a Cadet he or she has to finish a course, then he will show them how to do it first, Williams said.
“One of my favorite lines, ‘I will never require a Soldier to attempt any task I will not do myself,’ and I believe that,” he said.

In the end, regardless of whether a Cadet graduates, he or she will take something valuable from it, Williams said.

“You’ve influenced their lives in a positive way in some way, fashion or form,” Williams said.

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