Staff Sgt. Devin Sorensen, with the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, reports to the members of the board during the Fort Jackson Drill Sergeant of the Year
Competition. (Photo by Nathan Clinebelle)

Top drills square off in title bout

By Emily Hileman, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Drill sergeants spend 10 weeks teaching, molding and mentoring civilians from various cultures, backgrounds and walks of life. The daunting task of transforming ordinary civilians into Soldiers is not one for the faint of heart. Drill sergeants are some of the most skilled noncommissioned officers the Army has to offer, but which of them is the best of the best?

Fifteen drill sergeants from across Fort Jackson’s training brigades and the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy are competing in the annual Drill Sergeant of the Year competition from May 22-25 to answer that very question and receive the coveted belt. The winners don’t just get a fancy belt and a title, though.

“You are the face of the drill sergeants for your particular center of excellence,” said Staff Sgt. Devante McLean, the 2022 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy’s Drill Sergeant of the Year. “You are the also the voice of the drill sergeants. You are the one who is going out and checking on their mental health.”

McLean said the winner of the competition doesn’t just act as the voice of all drill sergeants, but they also “check on training and make sure everything is being executed” properly in the training environment. Needless to say, the boots they’re all seeking to fill are colossal.

“To me, the best drill sergeant is a well-rounded Soldier,” said Staff Sgt. Ashely Buhl, a senior drill sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment. “That’s something the Army is moving towards … the total Soldier concept, a jack of all trades.”

The competition is one that tests drill sergeants not only mentally and physically, but it also tests their stamina and character.

“First and foremost, they are experts at their craft. (They’re) testing their ability not only mentally, but physically as well,” McLean said. “It also tests their character, because 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.”

Although exhausted, the true purpose of being a drill sergeant was not lost on Buhl.

“Our primary role is to teach them the basic skills they need to be a Soldier … We teach everything – drill and ceremony, weapons. Basically, just shoot, move, communicate and kill,” she said. “One of my favorite things to teach, though, is about the Army itself, because there’s more to life than just basic training.”

Buhl said she enjoys teaching new Soldiers how to become a good leader, how to get promoted and other aspects of the Army that many may not even realize are part of the life of a Soldier.

Due to their role as educators and trainers in the way of the American Soldier, the competition focuses heavily on teaching and educating trainees during three “round robin” events.

During these events, the competitors rotate to different stations every 15 minutes. Each station tests their knowledge and ability to train and educate to-be Soldiers on weapons, drill and ceremony, survival techniques and methods, first aid and many other critical areas covered during BCT.

Although none of the material and activities are new, it doesn’t make them any less challenging.

“I’ve done all of this before,” said Staff Sgt. Jake Mrzena, an Army Reserve drill sergeant and competitor. “It’s just that they keep you busy, busy, busy.”

The action-packed schedule keeps the drill sergeants on their toes and pushes their endurance and physical capabilities.

“Everything has been challenging,” said Staff Sgt. Brenda Vargas, a competitor and drill sergeant from 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment. “Just the mental preparation matched with the physical part of it, all meshed together. That’s what makes it extremely challenging.”

The winners will be announced during an awards ceremony later today, but for now, drill sergeants will continue proving themselves throughout the competition to win the coveted title of Drill Sergeant of the Year.