It's been long enough, mission is long over, many of the souls involved have since completed training and are fully indoctrined into the Army. I've been out for more then a month.
I think it's safe to tell you my summer story.
Now this comes with a side note, and an explanation perhaps of what exactly happened. For my job, looking back, I learned quite a bit in my summer in Kentucky, but it wasn't without it's intense frustrations and sometimes what seemed to be a lack of understanding from my chain of command. But this is not going to be a bitching session or a rant, more of a 'who what when where why and how' without getting emotion involved. Or trying not too. I think my command did the best they could in many regards, but I think I got the short end of the stick.
Why is that you ask? Because if something happens and I go back, which is actually turning out to be a possibility that may happen sooner then I expected, I will live by the same rule as this summer. I can't blog about what is happening in my military career. I'm not going to talk about it. And if I do, it will be on very vague terms.
Now, about this summer.
For those of you who know, I am a reservist in the US Army, I do my one weekend a month and two weeks a year and occaissionaly I get called up to go to cool and exciting (and sometimes not so exciting) places. So far, the 'different' places have been as diverse as Suriname in South America, the nation of Kosovo when it was still a International Protectorate, Devens Massachussetts, and Camp Parks in California.
Now I'm a Drill Sergeant. This might stir up different emotions in anyone, and I get that from time to time when I'm wandering around in my civies and somebody finds out that I wear this funny hat (mostly this is disbelief or a flat up 'huh?'). Drill Sergeant duty leaves me limited to about five places if I'm going to be doing BCT (Basic Combat Training, the bread and butter of the Drill Sergeant image), but so far the two primary have been Fort Jackson and Fort Knox.
This summer, I was mobilized to Fort Knox for six months. You may have not known that from my blog because I largely kept mum about it.
You may have wondered why if you did.
I was specifically ordered not to blog about anything to do with being a drill sergeant over this summer, or my job in general for that matter. And I followed it for a very important reason. Because tension was high and any blog about my job would have likely turned into a full scale bitching session. I've had time to decompress since then so I can avoid this, hopefully.
See, it is partly because of this blog (and the now defunct and likely to stay that way Foxholes and Dogtags) that I did not serve as a drill sergeant this summer.
I was the freakin' supply sergeant. And I hated that job. The experience over all was not really the highlight of my life full of joy and wonder. I could go into about a three day rant about how much I hated being the supply sergeant, how I felt like I got screwed up the tail pipe royally on that assignment, and how I never want to see another piece of linen for as long as I live.
Alright, actually linen wasn't so bad, it got me some Joe time.
The thing is, though I hated my job, I worked my freakin' butt off on it trying to make stuff happen, learned it from scratch as I've never done supply before this mob, and basically ran around with a sense of urgency (that sense of urgency makes me believe that I would make a fantastic drill sergeant in that regard) to the point that people often commented that I should slow down and I was always moving with something to do. But it was a thankless job, and good luck getting anything that needed to be purchased. You have to beg borrow and steal to get anything.
The reason I volunteered to go to Knox in the first place was to get Joe time. I volunteered to be a Drill Sergeant, I've wanted to be a Drill Sergeant ever since AIT (I didn't dare admit it during Basic) and I actively sought out this unit as soon as I got back from Kosovo. The only downside is my lack of street cred (that's a combat patch) which I would still like to get one day, but in the meantime, I decided to become a drill sergeant because there are many aspects about the job that draw me to it. And I love being a drill sergeant.
Now, I know I am not the world's best drill sergeant. Far from it, and this summer high lighted that for me, as I still wore the hat even though I was in the Supply Sergeant slot (I probably should have taken it off before we picked up, in the long run, things would have been better). I'm a rookie, though I've been out of Drill Sergeant School for a year, you don't get a lot of trail time on one weekend a month. And two weeks in Jackson only gives you a few lessons, especially when you fall on Blue Phase Privates (a whole different animal then red phase, I'll tell you). I wanted that trail time, because in my mind, to make me the optimum drill sergeant I could be, I needed that trail time to develop myself.
I came to Fort Knox probably the most motivated person there, ready to push Joe and start training, to get that experience, because the one thing that really truly makes a Drill sergeant is just that, experience.
Well, I did get some trail time in, but not in the way I would have preferred for a Drill Sergeant like myself, somebody who is still new at the game and didn't have a lot of leadership experience coming in to begin with. I got my joe time in with the occaisional detail (four to ten privates, depending on the needs of the mission) and the SLLC. Curse 'em.
This summer, I was not a stereotypical drill sergeant, being in the supply room, I was told that I was a supply sergeant and to stay out of the drill sergeant's way. I won't go into detail on why, but my confidence became shot as I felt like I was always getting my tail reamed, so I became essentially a neutered drill sergeant. I tried to cultivate that tough attitude and mean 'in your face' mantra that is so well defined as a drill sergeant, but got my butt reamed for interfering with those 'on the trail' that I just became myself. And I'm not a really mean person by my nature. Not feeling like I was allowed to develop that side of me more made me the 'nice' drill sergeant.
Bloody hell, that is not what any drill sergeant wants to be. Especially as a female. You should be universally loathed (but respected) at least through week 6 if you are a female drill sergeant. I think I had their fear through week one, maybe, simply because I wore that funky hat. But I think most privates in the troop were wondering 'what's her deal?' then anything else.
And from my summer as a Supply Sergeant that wore a drill sergeant hat, I learned a few lessons.
My primary lesson, that I will live faithfully to the fullest extent if I ever get trail time again is an important lesson that any drill sergeant should follow.
LESSON ONE: ALL PRIVATES ARE DIRTBAGS
This is without fail the way any and all drill sergeants should live. Keep that in mind. They're all dirtbags. All of them. Every last freakin' one, from the one that rides sick call to the one that scores a 322 on their first PT test. They're all, without exception, dirtbags.
Now, if you are a civilian, you are probably wondering, 'that's kind of harsh, and you shouldn't judge them, they are people too, with individual feelings and needs' and I will tell you 'no they are not! They ceased becoming human as soon as they entered reception, got their heads shaved and started wearing the same thing as everyone else.' And there is a very vital reason for doing this. Drill Sergeants can't afford to see privates as humans. They are foul nasty things that need to be kept at a distance. I will tell you, as soon as you see them as human, you lose your power base with them, and you lose that power base, you will NEVER get it back.
You will see privates that you think are high speed from day one. Don't let them fool you, they are still dirtbags. You don't know these privates, you don't know their history, where they came from, what kind of people they were before coming in. You are stuck with 60 faces that all flow into one another and your job is to train them. When you start seeing them as human, you start empathizing with them, and when you do that, it opens up the power to manipulate you. And they will tell you anything you want to hear. They will lie through their teeth. They will tell you very convincing sob stories. The way to counter this is to put up that barrier and not want to hear it. You can't afford to know them to well.
Granted, from time to time there is a private with a genuine concern, and it is your job to take care of them, and you take care of them. But you have to feign indifference. Because as soon as they think they got your ear, they will take advantage of you and tell you their entire life story so you will take their side when things are hard.
They are dirtbags. All of them.
When do they cease being dirtbags? I would say its safe to drop that label around week five or so, as soon as you start to see them as Soldiers instead. By that time, you get to know them, you can't help but get to know them by this time. Then you give the ones that deserve it your respect. But keep that distance. When they graduate from AIT, you can start seeing them as human again.
LESSON TWO: BATTLE BUDDIES ARE THERE FOR A REASON
The BCT environment has an essential rule which coincides with Lesson One, aside from the incredibly cheesy name. The Battle Buddy. If you go anywhere, your battle buddy is right along with you. never go ANYWHERE without your battle buddy. This is extremly important in places like Fort Jackson and Leonard Wood, which is co-ed. I learned it is also very important in all male units like Fort Knox. It is not as enforced in all male environments, but it is still important.
This summer, I was stuck more then once with a private who didn't have a battle buddy. Just me and him. I didn't like this but I had to put up with it because another soldier couldn't be taken out of training early on in the cycle for purposes of enforcing the Battle Buddy system. But it is ESSENTIAL!
You ever hear of Stockholm Syndrome? Well, it can be put in reverse as well. More then once, I was put one on one with a private, and when they aren't a mass of faces, you start humanizing them, and then the trouble starts. This is especially problematic if it occurs early in the cycle and you are a rookie drill sergeant like myself. You CANNOT afford to humanize them. They are dirtbags, pure and simple, and if they are taken out of training early, no matter what the reason, you can't empathize with them even if you think they have a valid reason for being out of training. Some privates are genuinely hurt, they want to train and you feel bad for them. Suck it up. They are still dirtbags. Especially the SLLCs. Don't let them break down the barrier, because when they find out they got your support, they'll manipulate you and take advantage. DON'T let it happen. They are all dirtbags. Even the ones who aren't.
Never let a private approach you without a battle buddy, whether you are in Fort Knox, Fort Jackson or working with the National Guard. If they don't have a battle buddy, you better have one.
LESSON THREE: CRAZY IS CONTAGIOUS
I've mentioned the SLLCs a few times now. And you are probably wondering who the hell these are. Well, they are the soldiers out of training because of various ailments. The Sick, Lame, Lazies and Crazies. Some of them are genuine. Some of them are just seeking a way out of the army and are finding any way out that they can.
The SLLCs will get together and will compare notes. The ones who are faking will ask the ones that are genuine what they did to get the chapter and the one way ticket to HHC (heading home company) and then suddenly, you'll have the same ailment spring up within the group hoping to expedite the process.
Now, it is important to seperate the SLLCs from the soldiers still in training, because the ones in training might get ideas if they have a change of heart and they'll become SLLC too.
But the ones who are under threat of recycle, those are the ones you really want to watch out for. Suddenly they'll start hearing voices and get ulcers when before all they had was a mysterious bum leg that never healed. Hmm. . .
In my mind, if you don't want to be there, I don't want you there, but that is not the army's mentality. We are at War and we need fresh bodies, even if that body is reluctant to serve once he realizes what he's done. Tough luck, suck it up. Last I checked, its still a volunteer army.
Watch out for the SLLCs. They are the biggest whiners and complainers of them all. Don't empathize with them, EVER.
Again, all dirtbags.
Why am I stressing the SLLCs? Because they were my primary contact. And I learned some hard lessons from that group. In my mind, some were genuinely good people who would have made outstanding soldiers if they didn't have the health problem they did. A couple were fighting to stay in.
But you don't know the whole story, the privates will put on a front so that you see what they want you to see. They'll tell you what they think you want to hear. Don't believe a word they say (but encourage them if they tell you they want to stay in). But don't lose that barrier.
If you are wondering, yes, that barrier got broken down more then once with me. I'm a rookie drill sergeant still learning the trade. In my mind, i should have never had that much alone time with the SLLCs (you can't even smoke 'em), they should be left to seasoned drill sergeants who can see past the BS. But I learned some valuable lessons from them. I will never let that happen again.
LESSON FOUR: BEING THE UNIT PHOTOGRAPHER IS A BAD IDEA
You want to know what breaks down the barrier more then anything? Being the unit photographer. Now, granted, I loved doing this, because it gave me an excuse to go out with the Joes and get involved with their training when otherwise I would have been stuck in the Supply Room. And I'm a camera whore. I got some great shots of the privates this cycle, and I was known as the one with the camera.
But if anything, you want to pass the camera around to different people so that only one person isn't associated with it. However, I had my nice DSLR camera that I didn't want just anybody to handle. I got some fantastic shots with it.
And every private in the freakin' troop will ask you what those pictures are for. You tell them they are for your own twisted amusement, I was half tempted to run them through Photoshop and mess with a few but refrained. But as Supply Sergeant that wanted to get out there and push Joe, this was kind of my saving grace, I got in there because I was taking pictures for the Commander.
But I don't think I'll ever be the primary photographer again, unless I'm serving in a support role, because it leads to problems. I won't mind taking pictures from time to time, like the gas chamber is a personal favorite, but I don't want to be seen as the Drill Sergeant with the camera, so Privates come up to me later asking how they can get copies of the pictures.
I threw them on a website and let whoever wants them take them.
LESSON FIVE: KISS YOUR SUPPORTS' BEHIND, ESPECIALLY YOUR SUPPLY SERGEANT
Most thankless job ever. (actually, scratch that, Preventive Medicine is the most thankless job ever.) I got moments of gratification when i was able to figure something out and get what we needed, when i got that contact and found something that was asked for. But what you are known for is the stuff you CAN'T get.
Like *% printers. And Cleaning Supplies. When you are starting a unit from scratch, you tend to be missing essentials.
One of the reasons why I hated my job so much is because it often pitted me against the Drill Sergeants, who are supposed to be MY battle buddies. I was supposed to be one of them. I wasn't, I was support. I was treated like an outsider, so I became an outsider trying to get them what they needed because they were the ones in the spotlight.
I had a few grumbling about me and my lack of getting things needed. I had a few privates probably grumbling as well. I did as best as I could, and I was told by my command that I did a damn fine job considering what I had to work with and that I had never done this before, and the fact that I wanted to go on a homicidal rampage half the time.
But I'll tell you this. I was more willing to help the Drill Sergeants that kissed my butt and acknowledged the fact that I was working like a dog then the ones that bitched about me. And I hooked them up when i could. When you are stuck with limited supplies and you got four platoons, you start helping certain platoons more often.
So when I'm on the trail, I'll know if I need anything, I need to kiss that Supply Sergeant's butt. Good thing I now speak logistics. And if I go back to Knox, well, I have some valuable skills as a Drill Sergeant. There were some upsides to this job after all.
LESSON SIX: KNOW YOUR BATTLE BUDDIES
It is a fact of life, you are not going to get along with everybody. One important thing I will note is often times it is the other Drill Sergeants you won't get along with.
It is vital that the Privates don't know that you don't get along. I tried to hide my disgruntlement toward my fellow Drill Sergeants from the Privates as much as I could, but sometimes it was a little obvious. Damn. That was my fault. But I'll admit it, some of them flat out pissed me off (see above).
Still, even if you don't get along with some of them, you need to find some common ground with others, because your battle buddies are your support. You need them, because when you are in cycle, you don't ever have time off to be with your friends and your family. The unit is your family, for nine weeks. For the first five weeks of the cycle, I felt it was me against them. I started to patch things up toward the end and I feel like I left with no bad feelings towards most of my battle buddies, but I wish I didn't have that. I wished I had that support network from the start. Being in the orderly room with a couple guys who bitched about the drill sergeants as well (like I said, kiss your supports' butt, vital I'm telling you) didn't help me build that comradarie either.
You know who I ended up battle buddying with unintentionally? Yeah, that's right. The WRONG people. I am human after all. See Lesson One and Two.
Know your fellow Drill Sergeants. Respect them and their position, even if you don't get along. And NEVER badmouth them to privates, even if they totally screw up and do something stupid. If you ruin their power base, they can do the same thing to you. And that's bad karma for a unit, and the privates suffer in the end.
When it becomes a case of a Drill Sergeant's word against a Private's, fellow Drill Sergeants should always back up their battle buddies (unless its something stupid, like blatant trainee abuse or a Drill Sergeant sleeping with a private, if you know about it, let that bastard fry or you'll go down with him). Again, Privates will try to let you see their side, and they'll embellish the facts a smidge in their favor. Am i going to take the word of a private who just came in off the street over a disguished NCO with a long career serving in the Army?
remember, all Privates are Dirtbags. Until they prove to you otherwise by being an outstanding soldier that gives you everything they got, keep this mentality.
LESSON SEVEN: DON'T SMOKE 'EM FOR NO REASON
This is a lesson you learn from observation. I never smoked privates, I would yell at them for calling me ma'am, true, but I didn't smoke them. I was the supply sergeant after all. I got the impression early that I wasn't allowed to smoke 'em.
Some units smoke privates for whatever reason they want, and more often then not, they give you no reason. You always give the privates a reason why you are smokin' the snot out of them. For the first three weeks, those reasons are mundane and stupid yes, but you give them a reason. As the cycle progresses, don't smoke 'em for stupid stuff, but smoke 'em when they genuinely screw up.
The reason for this? If you have nightly smoke sessions for your privates, they get the mentality of 'well, they are going to smoke us anyway,' and they start doing stuff they shouldn't, especially in the tail end of white and blue phase. Soldiers under the threat of being smoked for screwing up behave better then the ones who get smoked for no reason at all.
I am a firm believer of a system of rewards and punishments as a drill sergeant. If they do something bad, punish the crap out of them. But when they excel, you reward them. When you reward good behavior, it encourages it, and this is especially true with Privates. And rewards can be as simple as a five minute phone call, and extra thirty minutes of personal time, listening to a little music while cleaning weapons, to turning your back on a care package with the subtle intent that it's contents better be gone when you return. Rewards can be simple in the BCT environment, because those privates appreciate the simple stuff. You don't realize how good you have it until you lose your freedoms, and you have no freedoms in BCT. When your platoon comes together as a unit and impresses the hell out of you during a training exercise, let them know that they did good. Give 'em a little something so they keep doing good.
But they are still dirtbags. Never forget it. And when they screw up, you smoke the crap out of those bastards.
LESSON EIGHT: HAVE FUN
There is no job in the army outside of the combat zone more stressful then that of a drill sergeant. You work from O-Early hundred to bedtime with little sleep, seven days a week, and you can't show a weakness. If you are hurting, you have to suck it up so the Privates don't see. You are the alpha and the omega to those Joes. You are the army to them. They see you as a role model, what they strive to become. They want to emulate you. These privates will remember you for the rest of their lives (everyone remembers their drill sergeants).
No pressure there.
Being under a lot of stress can make life hell at times, so it is important for Drill Sergeants to maintain a sense of humor. And drill sergeants have a sick and twisted sense of humor, which is what makes them drill sergeants. You mess with the privates (but keep it professional), you crack a joke and smoke 'em for laughing at it.
Keep it humorous. Keep that mean streak, don't let your fun mess with your image, but rather let it compliment. Be a hard ass with a dry wit about you. My most effective humor is when I keep it really dry I've noticed. Quote well known movie lines. sing songs from Team America at random moments. Poke fun at the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy when privates do something questionable. Don't outright insult them, (on second thought, do. Just make sure the brass doesn't make note of it) but make little jabs at them from time to time.
And the best way to have fun with the privates is through Cadence Calling. I know some interesting ones. Everyone wonders about the Baby Seals Cadence. It's always popular with the privates. Because its sick and twisted. this is the army, baby! Our primary mission is neutralize the enemy, often by killing them. If you can't hang with that, why in the hell did you join? What did you think we were, the boy scouts?
Keep it fun. Keep it real. Humor is a great stress reliever. And I love marching to cadence. That was one of the things I really wanted to do this summer, and when you are stuck marching sick call, it's more of a 'route step, march' sort of thing. Damn SLLCs.
Yes, some basic lessons I learned this summer, ones I thought I knew and found out I didn't know enough. I might actually be able to utilize them next summer. I feel like I learned, and here I am willing and eager to get on the trail. I hope the army recognizes that there is potential in me, even if I'm not the optimum drill sergeant right now. I went through the school, I just want to be given the chance to do the job I was trained to do.
I think what I need most is a mentor who is willing to work with me and show me what I need to do. I actively sought that this summer, the First Sergeant said he would work with me, but when you have this many people in a unit, you need direct supervision for proper mentorship and I didn't have that, I would have if I was in a platoon. But hindsight is 20/20, and indeed, if you make mistakes, its best you learn from them and drive on. None of my mistakes were ones I would lose my hat over, but a lot of them were learning mistakes that a rookie makes.
Looking back now, I think one of my problems is comparing my experiences now to when I was a private going through Basic. The problem then, I was looking at it from a private's point of view, which had me empathizing with the privates. I need to stop looking at basic in B 3-10 and look at it as me being a Drill Sergeant. I'm not a private anymore. And I think that was a key component to when i screwed up this summer.
Now I need to run my butt off and get myself back in shape so i can push Joe next summer. And this time, I'm going to make sure things go right.