Staff Sgt. Brenda Vargas, a drill sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, fires her weapon during the Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition,
May 25. (Photo by Nathan Clinebelle)

Top drills on Jackson named

By Emily Hileman and Nathan Clinebelle, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Fifteen drill sergeants across Fort Jackson’s spent last week in a battle of knowledge, teaching and leadership as they competed for the title of Drill Sergeant of the Year. Three drill sergeants were given the illusive title, each in their own category. DSOYs were named Drill Sergeant Academy’s Drill Sergeant of the Year, the Reserve Component Drill Sergeant of the Year and Fort Jackson’s Drill Sergeant of the Year.

The competition isn’t just a few questions, a board and physical obstacles. It is known as one of the most physically demanding and mentally draining challenges any Soldier can face in the Army. Winners of this competition must be knowledgeable, physically fit leaders capable of training battle-ready Soldiers in high-stress environments.

“Every year, we gather drill sergeants from across Fort Jackson as well as the Drill Sergeant Academy,” said Staff Sgt. Devante McLean, the 2022 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy’s Drill Sergeant of the Year. These drill sergeants compete in mental and physical exercises to see which drill sergeant is the best of the best.

The competition’s roots go back to 1969 when Sgt. 1st Class Allen G. Carpenter was selected as the first Drill Sergeant of the Army and he received the Stephen Ailes Award, an award presented annually to the most outstanding drill sergeants in the Army. Carpenter, a Vietnam veteran with more than 23 years of service, set the standards high for all drill sergeants, but especially those wishing to be named the DSOY.

Drill sergeants start small and compete within their own footprint before moving up to the installation level. Following that competition, the winners go on to compete in the Army’s competition. The final competition awards both an active duty and a reserve component drill sergeant with the title.

The work of the DSOYs does not end at the competition, though. Once crowned (or belted) as victors, the two drill sergeants will work for the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Va. “You are the face of the drill sergeants,” McLean said. “You are also the voice of the drill sergeants. You are the one who is going out and checking on them.”

Not only were they pushed physically and mentally, but their leadership acumen and character were also tested throughout the event. “They’re going to be tired for days in a competition and they still have to perform at that high level and execute at a higher standard.” McLean said.

Through the mental and physical exhaustion, three drill sergeants reigned victorious above their competition and were given the title of Drill Sergeant of the Year. Sgt. 1st Class Reginald Turnipseed was named the Drill Sergeant Academy’s Reserve Component DSOY, Staff Sgt. Devin Sorensen was named the Drill Sergeant Academy’s active duty DSOY and Staff Sgt. Ashley Buhl was named Fort Jackson’s DSOY.

After being offered the chance to teach at the Drill Sergeant Academy and working with some of the best people he’s met, Sorensen decided it was time to compete. “I wanted to do something a little more difficult,” he said. “I wanted to see where I stand with everybody and I think I got that out of the competition.”

Buhl was at a significant disadvantage during the competition as she was the smallest in stature and was suffering from an injury during the competition. However, she was still able to show everyone what she’s capable of and she hopes to use her position to help others. “I’m hoping to be able to go around to each battalion and see what they want changed about Fort Jackson,” she said. “I can’t be the voice of the people without knowing what they want.”

As for the Reserve Component DSOY, Turnipseed said he wants to lead by example. “I don’t just want to talk the talk, but also walk the walk,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Turnipseed, Sorensen and Buhl will continue to study, train and grow to compete in the Army’s Active Duty and Reserve Component Drill Sergeant of the Year competitions later this year.