0Z5A0169.jpgBy Alexandra Shea                          Fort Jackson Leader

Fort Jackson’s own Sgt. 1st Class Travis Burkhalter, drill sergeant leader at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy, earned the title of 2021 Drill Sergeant of the Year after a grueling week of testing that stressed 12 candidates mentally, physically, and emotionally.

“Hopefully I can take the job of the current drill sergeant of the year’s job and have a bigger impact on the Army,” Burkholder said the first day of the competition. "I decided to compete for a chance to better myself and bring pride to the Drill Sergeant Academy.”

And he did just that.

The ceremonial pavilion at Hilton Field on Fort Jackson erupted with cheers and shouting as Burkhalter heard his name announced by the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training’s Command Sgt. Maj. Scott A. Beeson.

“Twelve centers of excellence sent their best drill sergeants to exemplify the high standards of tactical and technical proficiency, military bearing, physical and mental toughness, adaptability, and intellectual capacity,” Beeson said. “The competition was conducted in four days and included rigorous physical assessments such as an unknown distance foot march, obstacle courses, several written exams and essay evaluations. In the end, the best of the best distinguished themselves apart from the competition by excelling in all aspects [of the competition].”

During those four days, competitors battled through heat, humidity, rain and rough terrain to distinguish themselves. Though competing separately, the competitors all supported each other throughout the highs and lows of the competition.

“It’s all about embracing the suck and hard times together,” said Staff Sgt. Drew Madson, from the 344th Military Intelligence Battalion at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Arizona.

“Without the support of my kids and my wife, I wouldn’t be here,” Burkhalter said during his acceptance speech. “Competitors, I look forward to spending the next 12 months working with you to improve the enterprise.”

In addition to the naming of the Drill Sergeant of the Year, the Center for Initial Military Training Commanding General Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard announced the 1st Sgt. Tobias C. Mister Award.

“I want to thank the drill sergeant of the year competitors for stepping up and volunteering to compete and participate in a part of history of the Army but more importantly of what it means to be a drill sergeant,” Hibbard said. “The recipient of the 1st Sgt. Tobias C. Mister Award is Staff Sgt. Juan Martinez.”

Martinez, representing the 1st Battalion, 222nd Aviation Regiment, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, was presented with an engraved wooden hammer and later a coin by Hibbard. Martinez earned the award by having the highest score during the physical fitness test event.

The ceremony concluded with a line of fellow drill sergeants, sergeants major and Family members congratulating all the candidates.

“What our drill sergeants do every single day is key to the profession of arms. Without it we would not be where we are at and is the reason we are the role model of every single country in the world,” Hibbard said. “Drill sergeants are the first leader, trainer, mentor, coach, and in my mind the most important, inspiration and role model for the future of our Army.”