Sunday, November 18, 2012

What I Learned from A Drill Sergeant

A little over 20 years ago I joined the Army and went to boot camp. I was 17 at the time and I was terrified. Talk about the ultimate unknown! I was leaving my little home town where we had more cows than people and heading off to a completely different environment. Of course to help calm my Mother's nerves, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the United States had launched a counter attack against Iraq.

Against this backdrop I ended up in Fort Dix, NJ having my head shaved, putting on army fatigues, being fitted with the world's ugliest pair of glasses (nicknamed birth control glasses), and having some raving lunatics scream at me! Talk about wondering what I had gotten myself into! 

Now education in the Army is its own future blog post. Today I'm going to speak about two drill sergeants that led our group through its paces from start to finish.

Martinez and Jones were the two drill sergeants that greeted the raw recruits, myself included. Both Sergeants had the same goal, take boys and turn them into soldiers. How they chose to accomplish goal was similar, with one key difference.

Sergeant Martinez focused on the material, while Sergeant Jones focused on his men. Did we learn from both of these men? Absolutely. I will never forget the gas mask drills that Sergeant Martinez led. Of course, this information was especially relevant due to the aforementioned Saddam Hussein.

Sergeant Jones though, reached us on and at a different level. Ever watch a group of high school students behave perfectly in one room, walk into another room and act like idiots?  It can happen anywhere. Why did we respond this way? He had reached out to us as men. He knew that we would respond better to him if he formed a relationship with his soldiers. The rigor and relevance of the material being taught was the same no matter who taught it. What was different was the relationship Sergeant Jones had with us.

The differences started at 5:00 am when we had morning PT. (physical training) We not only ran faster and called cadence louder  for sergeant Jones, we had entirely different demeanor. I will never forget how that ticked Sergeant Martinez off. Very much like a class that knows they have gotten under the teacher's skin and just keeps pushing.

It continued in the way we worked during trainings, not all classrooms are indoors.  Soldiers in boot camp spend a LOT of time training, heck the whole thing is training!  We worked harder, faster, and longer for Sergeant Jones. We did it because we knew he wanted us to succeed, whereas Sergeant Martinez seemed to find pleasure in our failures.

The day ended with us being respectful to Sergeant Jones and if at all possible ignoring Sergeant Martinez. We used to just smirk when he would finally lose his temper and punish soldiers for imaginary infractions.

I know some of you recognize these behaviors and attitudes in your teachers and students. I saw this quote the other day. “Students don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
Keeping relationships in the forefront of teachers and administrators’ minds is especially important during these times when rigor is being so drastically and dramatically pushed.  If you want your students to learn, relationships are not kumbaya crap, they are an absolute necessity. Your students and in my case my teachers work just a little harder because they know I care about them.  


  1. Wow!
    Even the Army Drill Sergeants can be a source of examples of leadership!

    My Army son was born the day that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Five months later his father's National Guard unit was activated for overseas duty. It was a long year . . .

    I am so thankful that my Army son is currently stationed at Ft. Knox, KY.

  2. Fran, glad he stationed stateside! I just keep thinking that you can find leadership everywhere, you just have to look for it. I've been blessed to have had so many experiences to reflect upon to help me grow. I didn't realize it was leadership until years later!