Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Those Places Thursday - What Did I Get Myself Into?

Don't even THINK of smiling for this picture!  Yes, we were actually told that!

I always wanted to be a Drill Sergeant.  OK, not always, but for the majority of my military career I did.  I joined the Army and wanted to become an officer (NCOs everywhere are making vomit-faces while reading that).  My aunt and uncle were both officers in the Army and my other uncle had been an officer in the Navy.  It just made sense.  That's what I'd do.  Funny how things don't always work out according to plan.  My basic training drill sergeants were awesome.  I went to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) the first time around (see blog post) and there were no drill sergeants. Just regular NCOs.  While some were outstanding, my platoon sergeant was a first class piece of trash.  She played favorites, her uniform looked like crap, and she couldn't physically keep up with the trainees (I enjoyed that a bit much).  Then I went on to complete my training after DLI and it was back with drill sergeants.  It doesn't have to make sense...the whole span of a year with no drill's just the way the Army worked back then, but what did matter was getting back with those drill sergeants, and, again, those drill sergeants were nothing short of awesome.

I dreaded leaving training and going to my first duty station.  Would the NCOs there be garbage like my DLI platoon sergeant?  Nope.  There were, naturally, bad NCOs there.  There are good and bad NCOs everywhere, but my NCOs were awesome.  They took care of me.  They trained me.  They made sure I was prepared.  My experiences to that point made me realize that NCOs really did make the difference in Soldiers' lives.  I had experienced great NCOs and I had experienced bad NCOs and I knew what affect both kinds had on Soldiers.  I realized that not only did I want to be an NCO, but I wanted to be a drill sergeant.  I was a bit concerned that my family would be disappointed, but as life would have it around the time I made my decision, my Aunt Cathy who lived in Hawaii was visiting San Antonio where I was stationed.  She stopped by for a visit and I asked her if she would be disappointed in me if I decided to be an NCO instead of an officer.  Of course the answer was that they would all be proud of me no matter what decision I made, but it was comforting to hear it all the same.

I didn't expect to see a camera when throwing this dummy-grenade!
So time passed and I was asked if I would be a drill sergeant at Goodfellow Air Force Base.  I ended up turning it down.  I had a baby by now and my husband and I were both in the military.  Goodfellow ran in shifts and there would be no guarantee that my husband and I would be on the same shift.  We could essentially go through my 2 or 3 years "on the trail" and almost never see each other.  I didn't want it that bad!  A year or two later I got a call from my branch manager.  He used to be my platoon sergeant in Hawaii (another completely awesome NCO) and he knew I wanted to be a drill sergeant.  He told me that military intelligence was in desperate need of female drill sergeants and that I could go back to DLI to be a drill sergeant.  Back to DLI?  Be a drill sergeant at DLI?  Holy cow, yes!  My husband was redeploying.  He had been deployed for a few months after September 11th and was on his way back.  I had to clear it with him first, but I was completely excited about the idea.   I picked my husband up from the airport in January 2002 and as he was driving us home I told him about the offer.  I believe "Hell, yes!" or something along those lines was his response.

Would you like to know how small a world it really is?  I had the mail sitting on my lap in the car and after my husband's response I opened a letter that I saw was from an old friend of both of ours.  It was from Jen and Andy Woods (yes, Jen Woods from Climbing My Family Tree, Jen Woods!).  Jen had written her yearly Christmas letter and in it she gave the news that Andy was going to Drill Sergeant School and then would be heading out to DLI.  Holy cow!  I immediately contacted Jen to let her know we'd be seeing her there!

So how does the title of my post fit into this?  Well, I would eventually have to head to Drill Sergeant School myself, and in October 2002 I left for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  I have to admit that I was scared.  Not scared of how I was going to be treated.  My fear was always a fear of failure.  That fear always drove me to succeed.  You wouldn't have known it on that first day of Drill Sergeant School though.  In fact, my Drill Sergeant Leaders (DSLs) probably wondered who the heck decided to send me there!  You see I spent the entire night before school started polishing my boots and pressing my uniform.  I wanted to look sharp on that first day of school.  I wanted the DSLs to be impressed.  They weren't...and the first day was a disaster.

Drill Sergeant School has all these "modules" that you had to memorize.  What's a module?  Well, drill sergeants have to be able to instruct Drill and Ceremony, and the Army wants it done the same everywhere, so each drill and ceremony action had a module that a drill sergeant candidate had to memorize.  A module was "pitched" (recited word for word) and those words instructed the Soldiers on how to complete the action.  You can see an example of a relatively easy module at the end of the blog post, but my point here is that I went to school knowing that we would have to memorize these modules.  I figured that if other people had done it, then I could too. What I didn't know, what no one had bothered to tell me before going off to Drill Sergeant School, was that I was expected to know the first 3 when I arrived...or at least be remotely familiar with them.  Yeah...I didn't even know the first LINE of ANY module when I fell into formation that day.  Not good.

A sea of scary people.  Can you see me?
I was in the front row of the formation.  I was about the fourth or fifth candidate in so it didn't take long before they got to me.  I thought I was being smart.  I heard the others start to recite the module for the "Position of Attention" and I thought if I could get the first few lines down before they got to me then they'd cut me off and move on to the next person.  I would amaze them with my knowledge and how sharp my uniform looked.  Nope.  When they got to me I barely got off the first line and then ran out of what I knew.  DOH! I got a "Minus 2, sergeant...minus 2!"  We had demerit cards at drill sergeant school.  If you did something wrong it was a minus 2, 3, 4, etc and you had to put it on your demerit card.  On the weekend they needed extra manual labor and they would pick the people that had the most demerits to perform this duty.  If you did something right you could earn pluses, but they didn't happen often.

Anyway, I got a minus 2 within the first 10 seconds that a DSL was standing in front of me.  Then it got worse.  The DSL looked at my boots, "Those boots aren't shined on the sides, sergeant."...and I opened my mouth, "They're jungle boots, drill sergeant.  They aren't supposed to be."..."Minus 2, sergeant...minus 2." As I've mentioned once or twice before, one of my biggest problems in life had been my inability to just shut up.  My mouth failed me again...and again.  For such a smart girl I wasn't prepared for what the goal of that first day was and the pain continued..."Your hair is touching your ears, sergeant.", "I'm a female, drill sergeant, it's allowed to touch my ears."..."Minus 2, sergeant...minus 2."  Basically, by the time this DSL got done with me I had over 10 demerits and school just started!  I was known to the other DSLs as well.  Later that week we were marching to class and one of the other DSLs started talking to me. He looked at the name on my uniform and said, "Oh, it's YOU! Don't you have a ton of demerits?!?"  "Yes, drill sergeant," I said embarrassed.  Needless to say, I pulled duty that weekend.

What I failed to realize going into Drill Sergeant School (and boy do I wish someone had told me this), was that they were there to find flaws in us that first day, just like we would be finding flaws when inspecting our Soldiers later on (although not intentionally with our Soldiers).  The point wasn't to be perfect.  They would find flaws with you or they would make them up, just so your would get demerits.  A way of knocking everyone down a notch.  My brain just wasn't working that way and I couldn't understand why this drill sergeant was wrong!  How could he not know that you physically couldn't polish the side of a jungle was made of fabric!?!?  How could he not know the hair standards for female Soldiers?!?!?  Well, he did, but I just wasn't getting knocked down a notch so he kept going.  I can look back at it and laugh now, but I was horrified at the time.

Things got better.  Drill Sergeant School was a "gentleman's course" now.  No more "smoking" the candidates with push ups or sit ups.  As I said, they used demerits.  Drills that went to the school previously might think that this was a "softening" of the course or standards, but not so.  The demerits did their job and the philosophy as it was explained to us by our DSLs was that we were all NCOs and deserved to be treated like NCOs.  Made sense to me.

There I am.  I'm happier than I look!
We did lots of interesting things at school.  We had to stand across a parking lot from our "buddy" and give commands.  Our buddy had to execute the drill and ceremony command we gave or it was a hit on us.  The point was to make sure we projected our voice well enough to be heard.  Good reason...but the entire class of drill sergeants was in that parking lot yelling to their buddies, so you had to also yell over everyone else. Luckily, I had no problems in that department!  I was always too loud for my own good although one of my DSLs did tell me when I was marching our squad one afternoon that I wasn't loud enough.  I got a good giggle out of that one.  I think anyone that ever knew me would disagree with him too.

So these modules that I mentioned.  They had to be memorized word for word.  Not a single "a", "an" or "the" missing.  Some modules were a page long and some were much longer.  The longest was FOUR pages!  We would be assigned them in groups.  Here's your next group of modules.  You need to know them by this time.  When we would get "free" time during school you would see candidates with their noses to walls or light posts mumbling to themselves.  I had heard of this but didn't understand why.  As it turns out what it was is candidates finding a quiet corner to recite the modules to themselves without disturbing the others.   Silly, but it worked.

Anyway, you only had to say one from each group/assignment, but you never knew which one you'd have to do.  They'd roll the dice and tell you which one you got and then you'd recite it.  I never missed a single word and after the hell I received that first day, I was delighted!

By the time Drill Sergeant School ended, I was no longer the demerit queen.  I graduated with an "exceeds course standards" (no more than 20% could get this, and there were other stipulations as well), I was the Commandant's Inspection Awardee (finally recognized for having a kick-butt uniform), and I earned my Army Physical Fitness Award patch, by getting over a 90% on each event on my record APFT.  In fact the DSL grading my sit-ups was rather excited at my score.  He yelled to the DSL next to us after I finished, "Hey she just did 98 sit-ups! (in 2 minutes)"  I was hurting during that APFT too.  I had gotten sick and was actually drinking cough syrup to stop my body-shaking coughs during the night.  My suite-mate threatened to have me sent to sick call because my cough sounded so scary.  If you went to sick call you essentially went home.  You couldn't miss more than a couple hours of class, and sick call always exceeded this time.  After I finished my 2 mile run on that APFT I collapsed and proceeded to cough my brains out, but I was done!

Drill Sergeant School was quite the experience, but it was a good one too.  I learned a lot and I felt somewhat prepared to take on the responsibilities that came with being a Drill Sergeant.  When I graduated I was thrilled.  Not just because I had "done it", but because despite starting out rough, and wondering "What did I get myself into?",  I did a pretty good job!

The Drill Sergeant Badge

The Position of Attention (module)

1. First and Second Squad FALL OUT, U-Formation, FALL IN. RELAX. LET ME HAVE YOUR ATTENTION. The next position, which I will name, explain, have demonstrated, and which you will conduct practical work on, is the position of attention.
2. The position of attention is the key position for all stationary, facing, and marching movements.
3. The commands for this position are FALL IN and ATTENTION. FALL IN is a combined command. ATTENTION is a two-part command when preceded by a preparatory command, such as Squad, Platoon, or Demonstrator. I will use Demonstrator as the preparatory command and ATTENTION is the command of execution.
5. When given, these commands are as follows: FALL IN. Demonstrator, ATTENTION.

6. Demonstrator, POST. I will use the talk-through method of instruction.
7. On the command FALL IN or on the command of execution ATTENTION of Demonstrator, ATTENTION.
8. Bring the heels together sharply on line, with the toes pointing out equally, forming an angle of 45-degrees. Rest the weight of the body evenly on the heels and balls of both feet. Keep the legs straight without locking the knees. Hold the body erect with the hips level, chest lifted and arched, and the shoulders square.
9. Keep the head erect and face straight to the front with the chin drawn in so that the alignment of the head and neck is vertical.
10. Let the arms hang straight without stiffness. Curl the fingers so that the tips of the thumbs are alongside and touching the first joint of the forefingers. Keep the thumbs straight along the seams of the trouser leg with the first joint of the fingers touching the trousers.
11. Remain silent and do not move unless otherwise directed. RELAX.
12. At normal cadence, this position would look as follows: FALL IN. RELAX. Demonstrator, ATTENTION. RELAX.
13. What are your questions pertaining to this position when executed at normal cadence or using the talk-through method of instruction?
14. Demonstrator, ATTENTION. You will now become my assistant instructor. FALL OUT.

16. I will use the talk-through method of instruction.


  1. What an experience, Cheryl! What a lot of hard work, too. Being knocked so low the first day, you HAD to go up, right? And what a memory you - all the DSIs - have to memorize so many pages. I'm so impressed. Thank you for your service to our country.

  2. Thanks, Nancy. I really enjoyed my time in the Army. It was tons of fun!

  3. What an honor to be a drill sergeant...a person that Soldiers remember the rest of their lives. And for the record, the Army is nothing without great NCOs, I'm glad you made that choice, too. Thank you for your service!

  4. Thanks, Heather. I'm glad I made that choice too and I know my family was tickled that I went to Drill Sergeant School, although many of my Soldiers probably remember me as the loud, evil, red-head...or at least the naughty Soldiers remember me that way. :)

  5. Love your post Cherie!!! I know that you must miss being in the Army sometimes. They're going to have to kick Andy out here pretty soon. :)

  6. SSG Corbin GreeffMay 28, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    What are the odds that I'd be in your platoon at DLI, followed by being a PSG at DLI, and now writing a paper at ALC, running across this post while researching DSs in the army. Blew my mind when I was reading and going "this sounds familiar," then seeing your picture.

    I remember my time at DLI under your tutelage fondly, as well as that of now 1SG Woods and 1SG Hobley. I recall the stories I received from you all every day when I walk through the barracks, tossing rooms. I enjoyed your article, and I wish you well.

    1. SSG! Congrats! Glad to walk down memory lane. :) I hope you're well (you must be there, SSG!). I'm sure you'll continue to do great things. It's always wonderful to hear from you guys. Now you all are the ones tossing rooms and shaking your heads at the privates!

  7. I was looking up if Drill Sergeants were still at DLI and came across this blog. After reading the dates you were at DS school thought I might remember you. Sure enough a blog by MY Drill Sergeant.

    DS Cayemberg, you were a fantastic NCO earning not only mine, but my wife's respect too. Her favorite story of my time in the Army was when we didn't have enough money to pay for a haircut. We were selling off our possessions to buy diapers and food so she cut my hair. You gave her orders to never cut my hair again (she still hasn't).

    This was a very cool and interesting read about the training experience of Drill Sergeants. Also very random and small world that it was by mine.

    1. So does that mean that you're looking to be a DS now or were just curious :)

      Thank you for the kind words and I hope you and your family is doing well. You should not have had to worry so much about money while serving in the military. It's a flaw in our system that I hope is being fixed in the 7 years since I got out.

      Take care!

    2. No, I got out 4 years ago to finish school and am now in graduate school. I told my friend about DLI, she got excited about it and joined the Air Force; now she's studying Chinese. I don't think DS duty would have been for me, I saw the hours you all put in and the family would have never gone for it. I think they would have preferred a 1 year deployment.