What is an Army Drill Sergeant?

G. Wiesen

An Army drill sergeant is a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the United States (US) Army who is tasked with the responsibility of training new Army recruits through Basic Combat Training (BCT). The title “drill sergeant” is used in the US only by Army drill instructors, and the Marines and Air Force use the terms “drill instructor” and “military training instructor” respectively. Becoming an Army drill sergeant is a difficult process and is typically considered to be a great honor and sign of extraordinary service by an officer who becomes a drill sergeant.

A drill sergeant trains new Army recruits.
A drill sergeant trains new Army recruits.

The US Army is one of the largest components of the US Armed Forces, and new recruits looking to become soldiers in the Army must complete BCT before receiving orders and deployment as soldiers. This BCT is performed under the direction and tutelage of an Army drill sergeant, who works to ensure that once BCT is complete, the soldiers are prepared for deployment into potentially hostile war zones and similar environments. BCT is typically about nine weeks long, and during that time a new recruit learns to live every moment according to the rigorous standards of the US Army.

New recruits looking to become soldiers in the Army must complete BCT before receiving orders and deployment as soldiers.
New recruits looking to become soldiers in the Army must complete BCT before receiving orders and deployment as soldiers.

An Army drill sergeant is typically chosen from NCOs who have proven themselves in service to the US Army. Potential drill sergeants are either offered the position as an indication of their performance, or may volunteer for the position in hopes of being selected. Few of those who wish to become drill sergeants are selected for training as a candidate, and those who are selected must then undergo a long period of further training. An Army drill sergeant will usually go through BCT all over again, with a special focus upon ensuring that he or she will be able to instruct new recruits and help them become soldiers.

The actual training that an Army drill sergeant oversees typically serves to teach a new recruit how to think, act, and survive as a soldier in the US Army. This includes everything from learning how to make a bed according to Army standards to firing and cleaning weapons and ensuring high physical standards are met. It is the responsibility of the Army drill sergeant in charge of a group of recruits to ensure that each recruit is able to do these things and prepared to be an effective soldier in a military campaign.

The importance of this duty is typically considered to be among the highest in the military, and Army drill sergeants are often considered the backbone of the Army. Completion of training to become an Army drill sergeant is finalized with the presentation of the new drill sergeant with the iconic campaign hat that is a unique part of the drill sergeant uniform. Drill sergeants are typically chosen from sergeants, staff sergeants, or sergeants first class.

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I still have nightmares about my drill sergeant, but the man was definitely qualified. When I first arrived at the base, he didn't waste any time getting us all scared and confused, but that's the way he wanted us to be. His job was to turn civilians into soldiers and that's what he intended to do.


I used to think my former drill sergeant was the meanest man alive when I was going through basic training, but I realize now he was preparing me for the worst conditions possible. Real combat is confusing and stressful, and so is Army basic training. The drill sergeant barks out orders the same way a superior officer might do it during a real fire fight. It's not personal, although it can feel that way during basic.

I couldn't wait to graduate from basic and move on to my assigned training school, mostly because my drill sergeant rarely gave me a minute's rest. I understand now why he did it, and his voice in my head probably saved my life when I was deployed into a combat zone two years later.

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