Drill Sergeants want you to know it’s not like the movies, at least not anymore.
While some things will always stay the same — like respecting authority, physical training and reciting the soldier’s creed — today’s drill sergeants double as powerful change-makers in the U.S. Army, and their job training Army Soldiers is more important than ever.
Drill Sgt. Ariel McClain came to Cadet Summer Training (CST) to teach Cadets from 3rd Regiment Basic Camp. She typically starts her work day around 04:00.
“It’s long hours, [I’m] here from before the sun goes up, sometimes until the sun goes down, working with [Cadets] all day,” McClain said.
For most Basic Camp Cadets, CST serves as their first introduction to the Army — and Drill Sergeants teach them everything they need to know. Unlike an enlisted soldier’s Basic Training, Cadets in Basic Camp are not yet contracted. However, the mission of a Drill Sergeant remains the same: the creation of a successful soldier, and in the case of CST, a successful Basic Camp Cadet.
“Our goal is to prepare soldiers for the next step in their career,” McClain said. “We are teaching them basic level skills that they’re going to take to their unit and build on, but they have to have that foundation to start with. This is their first building block.”
During Basic Camp, Cadets are introduced to drill and ceremony, rifle marksmanship instruction, first aid, and various individual and team soldier skills. The training is not without its difficulties, but with difficulty comes knowledge.
“We do yell, they do have to do pushups, but it’s all about teaching,” said McClain. “We want them to learn. We want them not to be afraid of us, but to have respect not just for us but for other people in the military, people in the civilian world.”
McClain says that helping civilians’ become soldiers is personally one of the most fulfilling parts of her job.
“Seeing all the knowledge they pick up, watching them apply the things that they’ve learned, watching the growth from the time that they get here to the time that they leave and seeing the physical and mental changes in them. That’s probably the most rewarding.”
McClain’s successful career as a Drill Sergeant follows her everywhere. Even when she least expects it, she’s reminded of her influence.
“I’ve run into some soldiers at Fort Campbell that have done so much more since being at CST Basic Camp and that makes you proud. That’s what the job is about for me,” she said.
Although her career has its perks, being a Drill Sergeant means that McClain misses out on aspects of her home life. For weeks to months out of the year, McClain is away from her wife, son and two dogs.
“It helps that my wife is super supportive and she understands that I do love this job and I do have to be away. These are future soldiers, future leaders, and I do like guiding them from the start and being able to help mold them before we send them out into the real world.”
For McClain, it’s about finding the balance between her work and family life.
“It’s just something I’ve always done, I’ve always enjoyed this job,” she reiterated. “It’s so easy to miss [my] family, but when it’s time to go to work, it’s time to go to work. When I’m done for the day, I call home. I talk to my family, try to Facetime and be there as much as I can over the phone.”
McClain herself is paving the way not only for future Army Officers, but for future female drill sergeants as well.
“There’s really not a lot of us out there, as far as female drills,” she said. “We are few and far between. I’ve showed up and the Cadets didn’t even know there was such a thing as a female drill sergeant, it’s a learning curve for people sometimes.”
McClain admits that working in a male-dominated field can be difficult, but she’s always been up for the challenge.
“We’ve got males that don’t want to listen to the female drills because they think it’s a man’s Army. We have to teach them that everyone is crucial to this, everyone has a place in the military.”
According to McClain and the increasing number of female servicemembers, the perception of a man’s Army will soon be a thing of the past.
“We have to hold our own,” she said. “There’s always the stereotypes. A lot of us have pride, we want to hold our own and that’s exactly what we do. There’s always somebody in the background that has an issue with females or will make a comment about females and you have to prove that person wrong. And I do. I’ll do it every day.”
Compassionate, understanding and humble might not be the adjectives that come to mind when picturing a Drill Sergeant, but maybe they should be.
“We’ve come such a long way as far as how people are treated, and making sure everyone is treated fairly,” McClain said.
No, it’s not like the movies, and it’s not supposed to be. This Army is an Army of change.
The U.S. Army Cadet Command would like to thank all Drill Sergeants driving change and serving as an inspiration for Basic Camp Cadets during Cadet Summer Training in Fort Knox, Ky.