Drill Sergeants are the linchpin of the United States Army’s recruit training program. Tasked with transforming enlisted men and women into Soldiers ready for combat, Drill Sergeants must not only be intimately familiar with every single aspect of the new Soldier’s responsibilities and duties, but also must possess the mentoring, communication, and disciplinary skills to indelibly impart them into the minds and hearts of new recruits. That’s why it might come as a surprise that the Army had no formal program or school designed to “train the trainers” until 1964—nearly 190 years after Major General Baron von Steuben introduced formal drill instruction to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

Following a 1962 survey of recruit training not only in the Army but also in the other branches of the United States Armed Forces, the Army concluded that the NCOs who were training recruits were held in low regard by them, in large part due to the relatively lax NCO selection process. New and higher standards for were created for NCOs selected for the job of training new recruits, and along with them the Army established its first Drill Sergeant School to train NCOs to these stricter standards.

The first Drill Sergeant School was formed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in September, 1964, one of several regional Drill Sergeant Schools under the command of the Continental Army Command (redesignated as United States Army Forces Command in 1973). In 2007, the regional schools were consolidated to form the Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and four years later the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School official opened.

Drill Sergeant Candidates (DSCs) are NCOs who have either been selected to attend the school, or NCOs who have volunteered; in either case, only the cream of the NCO cop are chosen to for the nine-week training program, which is divided into three three-week phases. Although Candidates are given 18 months to complete all three phases, they must be completed in order.

In August, 2014, the Army introduced significant changes to the Drill Sergeant Schools with the Army Learning Model, which gave DSCs more opportunities to actually serve as leaders over the course of their training, rather than simply being ordered around in a manner very similar to what new recruits experience under their own Drill Sergeants.

The new methodology gives DSCs the chance to learn higher-order training processes that, in years past, they would have to learn while on the job as actual Drill Sergeants. Rather than learning how to instruct recruits in the nuts-and-bolts of marksmanship training, for example, Drill Sergeants are now taught all the other processes and regimens associated with that training, such as risk management, range logistics and resource management, first-aid standards, and more.

In 2007, the Army created the position of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) Platoon Sergeant to serve in the roles that Drill Sergeants had previously held in training troops at their first post-Boot Camp deployment learning the technical skills related to their MOS’s. Drill Sergeants, on the other hand, were assigned to Basic Training, where it was felt their strict disciplinary approach and somewhat imposing leadership styles were more suitable. Nine years later, however, serious questions regarding the efficacy of AIT Platoon Sergeants began to be voiced, epitomized by an editorial dated May 1, 2016 in the Army Times titled, “Army needs to bring drill sergeants back to AIT.”

Regardless of the final decision regarding the AIT Platoon Sergeant program, however, two things are certain: The Army will always have Drill Sergeants, and NCOs must complete the Drill Sergeant Course to be awarded the Drill Sergeant Identification Badge.
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