Saturday, February 05, 2005

DS School...

"Hey Sarg.....if the world wasn't crazy, it would be awfully boring!!!! Finally, a real DI that I can poke for crucial information. What do you think about today's DI school? I was thinking about going, but I want to know all the in's and out's. Can you clue me in! Hooah!!!!"

I’ve done a few posts about going to Drill Sergeant School, but it’s probably easier to do it again than to find it, and maybe I’ll hit something I left out before, so here goes…

Beginning at the beginning, there are two ways to get to Drill Sergeant School. The first and most common way is to be selected by the Army. Assuming you meet all the criteria for the programs, you have a very good chance of being selected for some kind of special duty between the ranks of SGT and SFC. This could include Drill Sergeant, Recruiter, Observer/Controller, Instructor, or AC/RC liaison, and I’m sure there are probably a few more out there. The criteria for Drill Sergeant are pretty simple. You have to meet height/weight standards, pass a PT Test, pass a psychological evaluation, and can’t have ever been in trouble for anything involving "moral turpitude". Moral turpitude pretty much means violent crimes, adultery, sexual harassment, etc. This is not the official list, but basically they don’t want anyone morally weak who is likely to embarrass the NCO corps in a high profile job.

The second way to become a Drill Sergeant is to volunteer. Just give Drill Sergeant Branch a call or go to the ASK site, if you meet the criteria you’re probably going to get what you ask for. (Be careful what you ask for… I’ll hit that in a minute)

Preparing for school is easy. Learn the first three modules. Rest positions at the halt, Position of attention, and Hand salute. Anything you learn beyond that will make it easier later on, but you’ll have plenty of time in school to memorize modules. It’s easier now than when I went anyway, but I won’t go into specifics on that.

Other than modules, most of Drill Sergeant school is just being a good NCO. Everything that makes a NCO squared away in a line unit, is doubled in DS School. Study FM22-6, get a copy of TRADOC Reg 350-6, study the new PT program, practice marching soldiers in squads and platoons, etc.

Of course you should show up pressed and starched to the extreme. If you don’t know how to spit shine boots, find someone who does. Buy a heat gun and a can of Lincoln Wax. Kiwi sucks. Kiwi is for amateurs lol.

The easiest boots to put a spit shine on and keep it on are Altama Ripple Soles. Something about the leather they use makes them shine up very easily. They’re expensive though.. around a hundred bucks I think.

About life on the trail…

My own story, the short version, is that I planned to volunteer, decided not to after 9-11, then got selected anyway. The reasons I planned to volunteer are probably the same as a lot of people, but for those who don’t know the benefits, I’ll list some of them here.

Career progression – If you haven’t checked out your career map, also known as the professional development model, for your MOS, then you need to. It outlines all the things you should be doing throughout your career to develop yourself as an NCO and stay competitive for promotion. You might notice that between SGT and SFC Drill Sergeant is at the top of the list. There’s a reason for this. (once again… I’ll get to that in a minute)

My mentors – This is pretty easy to understand. Most, not all… but most, of the best NCOs I’ve known have been Drill Sergeants at one time or another. If I want to be the caliber of NCO that they are, I probably should follow the same trail. Also, I remembered my own Drill Sergeants as some of the baddest animals that ever stomped the terra firma, and figured that was something I needed to be a part of.

Pride – Like I mentioned before, you’re probably going to get selected for something, so you might as well do something cool. Recruiters, for instance, work their asses off. They probably work harder than anyone in the Army besides Drill Sergeants. But recruiters are generally not respected like Drill Sergeants. Some people, like me, even hate recruiters. If you’re going to work your ass off anyway, why do it sitting behind a desk sucking up to some Private’s parents? Some of the other TDA jobs are much easier, but consequently don’t seem to carry the same weight when the promotion board convenes.

Now for the part about "be careful what you ask for". I would never go so far as to tell someone not to volunteer for Drill Sergeant duty. On the other hand, be aware that if you do, you will earn every penny you’re paid. There are no more DONSAs or 3 and 4 day weekends. There are no more federal holidays. (You usually get Christmas) Your work day will usually go from around 0500 to 2100 in Red phase, 0500 to 1930 in White phase, and 0500 to 1800 in Blue phase. This is average… some days will be later and sometimes they’ll be earlier depending on what’s going on and how many partners you have to cover the evenings. You will work 7 days a week in Red phase, 6 ½ in White phase, and 6 in Blue phase, on average.

Depending on your chain of command, it can either be a very stressful environment or an insanely horrifically stressful environment. Luckily, I have a good chain of command, so it’s only stressful. I’ve heard horror stories from other units though. Hopefully they were exaggerated, but it didn’t sound like it. Most of your headaches will come from above, not below, but a lot of it is really nobody’s fault… it’s just the nature of the beast.

Your job will come first. Partly because the chain of command will demand it, but mostly because if you take your responsibility seriously you will put everything you have into your platoon. Some of the soldiers you graduate will deploy shortly after AIT, so you never know what little thing you teach them will stick in their brain and save their life someday. You will also spend a lot of time putting out fires. Every Soldier has some kind of issue at some time that demands your attention. It’s not like they can run down to the bank or personnel office on their own, so you have to track all their problems and make sure they get taken care of. Kind of like a line unit, only exponentially worse.

Now that you know what’s involved, here’s the payoff…

I have no doubt that once I am finally OFF the trail, I will be glad I did it. Think back to the worst field problem you’ve ever been on…. The one where it was –10 degrees and the OPFOR was everywhere and you slept 4 hours a night at the most. For me, those are the training events that I remember. I can’t tell you a damn thing about the gunnerys we shot at Bellows AFB in Hawaii, where the weather was nice and we trained hard during the day and then relaxed a little bit at night and got plenty of sleep. But I can describe in vivid detail what it felt like at NTC in February of the same year. The night when the wind was blowing so hard I literally screamed to see if I could hear it… and couldn’t.

Rolling into the BSA to get a shredded tire replaced, and stealing all (yes… ALL, every bit) of the hot chocolate and coffee and peanut butter and jelly and bread and goodies that the REMFs had left inside the warming tent, and taking it ALL back to the platoon to share.

Or being among the last 20 or so "survivors" after we stopped the Royal Marines who were playing OPFOR from coming through our position to hit 4th ID in the flank.

Hauling ass through a little valley, trying to get to our scout platoon, who was about to be overrun. The OPFOR was on both sides popping "vipers" at us and blazing with M16s. I was weaving back and forth and going so fast I knocked my gunner unconscious and lost his kevlar. We finally made it through without casualties (except self inflicted) and ended up facing an obstacle of mines and 12 rows of concertina wire, so we had to run the gauntlet again to get back out. All this while one halfshaft was dragging the ground and my batteries were melting into a puddle and threatening to catch fire under the TC seat.

Hearing the 1SG who had taken command of the Battalion HQ element say "Hell no… we don’t move another inch" and making a last stand among the boulders on a rocky spur, watching a flood of OPFOR move across mostly open ground and cutting them down over and over. It became a dogfight as they made it all the way up into the rocks with us… and then hearing the last few pops of M16 fire as we realized that there were NO survivors left on the other side. Most of us were down to 5 rounds or less of 5.56 and we had no .50 cal or 7.62 left in the Battalion. Everyone spontaneously screaming their head off because we had held out to the bitter end and won. (We wouldn’t have been nearly as happy if the casualties were real, but they weren’t and the fact remains that 4th ID was free to fight the Armor battle without getting punched in the side.) Five guys (and only one gun truck) in my platoon made it through… the rest were a few BN Mortars, and HHC Soldiers.

Fighting continuously for about 24 hours with no sleep and no food except what you could cram in your mouth between engagements (mostly M&Ms and pound cake).

Watching PVT Taylor, the lone "survivor" on his gun truck, drive forward to a new position, jump up in the gun and blast .50 cal at the enemy, jump back and drive to a new position (gun bouncing all crazy as he hauled ass lol), jump BACK up in the gun and launch more bullets, and do the same thing a third time before he got "killed" lol.

Wondering if SFC Hutch was crazy when he told us to smear mud all over our gun trucks, and then being amazed at how well they disappeared against the desert background…

Using two drums of SAW after one of the main battles was over to kill an enemy "smoker" truck at about 500 Meters…

Waking up after getting a few hours of sleep and finding my sleeping bag coated in ice…

That was absolutely the most miserable field problem I’ve ever been on. But looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I think being on the trail will be the same way. After all the headaches and tiredness and stress and BS and all that, in the end, I’m already glad I did it. Nothing worth doing is easy. I can look back right now and name a hell of a lot of Privates that I wish were Infantry so that they could work for me someday. On the other hand, those same Soldiers will be supporting me and mine down the road sometime, in one way or another. I’ve put a whole lot of great aircraft mechanics, vehicle mechanics, personnel specialists, medics, chaplain’s assistants, fuel handlers, truck drivers, OCS candidates, and everything else in the Army.

I’ve swelled with pride when my platoon did something good, and shook my head in frustration when good soldiers lost their mind in the presence of higher.

I’ve told a thousand whining little babies to "suck it up" and I’ve also been genuinely scared when good soldiers would suddenly fall out because they were trying to keep going when they should have complained.

I have spent a lot of time pulling my hair out, but I’ve also laughed so hard I thought I would bust.

If I had a choice, I would have done my time in Iraq first, and then done this. But I didn’t… so if I had to be stateside, I guess it beats shoveling sh#t in Louisiana.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brother I could not have said it better. My 2 very rewarding years on the trail will be with me forever, my 3 years of hell as a recruiter will be too, but for other reasons.

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