FORT JACKSON, S.C. – Watching the Army recruits run to their designated location, Drill Sergeant Alycia Perkins was swept up by the tension, the excitement, the anticipation. It was hard to tell who was more excited, her or the trainees.
She had only been “on the trail” for a few weeks, and everything was new and exhilarating for the Army Reservist. Fresh out of the Drill Sergeant Academy, Perkins had been molded into a professional builder of Soldiers – her head full of the latest knowledge, the regulations, desired training goals and all-important safety protocols.
The sergeant had worked extremely hard on earning her distinctive hat and badge, and she now stood before a group of civilians she had helped transform into Soldiers. They were just days away from graduating from Basic Combat Training, and Perkins could not be more proud.
“During this Blue Phase (the third and final part of BCT), I have gotten a lot of hands-on mentoring,” said the all-wheeled vehicle mechanic from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 485th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training). “At this phase of the training, it is not so much of the yelling and the teaching anymore. It’s more about helping these individuals understand who they are and what kind of Soldier they CAN be. That’s key to helping them realize their goals.”
Perkins had not been with the trainees through all three cycles of training – the Red, White and Blue phases. Reserve drill sergeants typically assist their active duty counterparts for a phase rather than a complete cycle. They can stay longer, however, based on need and availability.
Influenced by what is depicted in movies, many view BCT as a barrage of verbal beat-downs that hammer lax civilian tendencies out of individuals and re-program them with dress-right-dress precision and combat survival skills. Perkins didn’t deny the early need for stern verbal admonitions, but she offered perspective about the purpose.
“The screaming and yelling (in the Red phase) is more of a shock,” she observed. “It puts the trainees into a stressful environment so they can learn to think on their feet because that is the environment you would have when deployed.
“As you move on through the different phases,” the Columbia, S.C. resident continued, “you kind of step back from being ‘the hat and the badge’ and what people typically think a drill sergeant is, and you go more toward a mentoring phase and personal counselor position.”
It’s the latter that Perkins, and likely the majority of her cohorts, find most rewarding. She said it’s the main reason for her own transformation into becoming a drill sergeant.
“I don’t know if the Academy changed me necessarily, in as much as built upon what was already there. I have always been a pretty motivated Soldier and wanted to help people.”
In the teacher and mentor phase, Perkins has gotten to know people from across the nation with varying reasons for joining the Army. There have already been times when the young drill sergeant has been surprised by the motivation found amongst her charges.
“There are obvious base-level reasons for enlisting, but some of the trainees who come through here really have personal stories and attachments that help drive them to be a Soldier and serve as inspiration to get them through basic. Hearing these stories – where people are coming from and their diversity of experiences – has been a surprising reward of this job.”
Of course, personal motivation alone will not get a trainee through BCT. They have to meet all the standards and pass the physical and mental requirements. The drill sergeant is only there to guide the recruits and give them the tools to succeed. In the end, the trainee must do it on their own, just like Perkins did when she completed the Drill Sergeant Academy.
“The occasional failures among motivated young recruits can be disappointing,” Perkins admitted. “On the flip side, however, it is very rewarding to see a trainee who has overcome their struggles and made it to graduation.”
The sergeant also views her new job as an opportunity to grow as a leader and develop greater understanding of the big-Army picture.
“Just because you graduate from the Academy doesn’t mean the learning is over,” she observed. “Things are always changing. Even since I’ve graduated, things have already changed. A drill sergeant has to keep him or herself up-to-date and be as knowledgeable as they can be.”
With the eyes of every recruit looking to them as role models, Perkins said there is no choice but to strive to be the epitome of perfection. It’s not an easy goal to achieve, but it is a responsibility of the role.
Another expectation of drill sergeants is making sure all training requirements are accomplished. The simple logistics of moving a group of trainees around in an efficient manner to complete the fast-paced schedule of BCT is an education that Perkins has found invaluable and a bit taxing.
“What I find to be the most challenging is all the paperwork and the behind-the-scenes stuff you have to do: setting up training, getting with everyone else to make sure the schedules are aligned. This week, I am learning everything that goes into planning just one training exercise. It has been the most difficult, at least for me.”
Perkins spoke favorably about her assigned organization and the Training and Doctrine Command environment itself, saying it is a “very supportive place full of people willing to help.” In her short time on the trail, she has been surrounded by an environment that has made her more confident.
“I have realized I can handle more than I think I can.”
This type of confidence is critical for a leader who’s required to be a role model, and quite frankly, an example of Army perfection. In Perkin’s opinion, it is something any noncommissioned officer could achieve.
“Anybody can be a drill sergeant,” she confirmed. “You just have to have the time, the motivation and the patience to do it – and the drive, of course. It does take a lot. There are very long days – 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 or 8:30 p.m. is normal. So it’s not for the faint of heart.”
The responsibilities of the job are not for unmotivated people who don’t care about the quality of their work, either. It requires a disciplined effort and a generous amount of pride and ownership in the end goal, according to Perkins.
“You have to really care for the trainees and about the product you are putting out to do this kind of job.”
Nobody at the Army Drill Sergeant Academy will tell those striving for a hat and badge that their future role is going to be easy, the sergeant pointed out. They clearly explain the challenges, but are quick to note the possible reward that can be gleaned from the long and physically demanding days. Perkins has seen those rewards, and that is a product she has found pride in.
“There have been moments when I am teaching a class on why a regulation is the way it is, and it is very rewarding to see that light just click on for them. Helping them understand takes away any obstinacy. When you can get into why things are important, it really helps them connect with the Army in general and the material you are putting out.”
Finding a way to connect the trainees with the Army is a contribution to our nation’s future, Perkins hypothesized.
“That is what we are defending – that heritage going into the future. We are building a stronger Army. A more competent Amy. A more intelligent Army,” she said. “All those compiling factors are what you, as a drill sergeant, are working to instill in those trainees who will defend our nation eventually. So, the product you put out – that time you put into that trainee – really reflects, and will define, our future Army.”
Knowing she is playing a part – making a difference in not only the lives of future Soldiers but the nation itself – makes Perkins immensely happy and proud to be a drill sergeant.
“It is always said, ‘the trainees are a direct reflection of their leadership.’ That really makes me feel that what I put into them is exactly what they are going to put out into the rest of the Army. So, that is a really good feeling.”