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Yes, Drill Instructors/Sergeants Remember the Fallen and in a Manner One Can Hardly Imagine

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Most military men will never forget their Drill Instructors or Drill Sergeants.  For me, it was Senior Drill Instructor Sgt. Dogan, heavy Sgt. Rivera, and new guy Sgt. Matthews.  Sure It’s been almost 20 years, but when you had to ask each man permission to take a piss on a daily basis the names kind of stick with you now don’t they.  I’ll never forget my experience with Platoon 1107 in the summer of ’97 but I often wondered if they would ever remember me.  Likely not, but in light of Memorial Day, I began to wonder if they in fact would remember the fallen in combat that they worked so hard to train and prepare for war. Perhaps it is the fact that I am a good 15 years older than the average Drill Instructor today and a father to children myself now, but I finally realized they bear a unique burden and one of which we would typically never get a glimpse.  Until now thanks to the great people at Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said.

Boys to Men

Now, I’m a Marine and I’m going to refer to them from this point forward as DIs and I’m just going to have to ask you to be ok with that.  When I joined the Marine Corps in 1997 I was a kid, literally.  Just 17-years-old, I was baby-faced, short, and about 130lbs soaking wet.  I can still hear the screams of the DIs as they poked me in the head saying “boy does your momma know you are here?”  When they did nightly hygiene inspection on most recruits they were looking for injury or problem, but I’m pretty sure on me they were just looking to see if I even had pubes. Not me or my picture below, but you get the point.

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I had been at Bootcamp for a few weeks now when others began to receive letters and despite having family and friends, I didn’t receive a single one. Finally, I approached my Senior DI Sgt Dogan and asked him if there were any missing letters because I hadn’t received one yet.  I felt like I said it with confidence, but this 17-year-old body likely said it with a tear in the eye the Senior DI could uniquely see.  “Go downstairs to the payphone and make a call,” he told me. I went down to the first deck and called my family and it turns out there was just a mix-up in the address as the letters would eventually arrive.  Elated and on my way back up to the Squad bay, Sgt. Dogan asked me if everything was OK and I said yes.  But then as I began to explain further he screamed as loud as I have ever heard him do so for me to get on the Quarterdeck where he then smoked my butt for a good 45 minutes until the point I was about to puke.

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I can remember through a flurry of endless flutter kicks that night he asked me if I missed my family now and I screamed, “No Sir!”  Looking back, never was there such a duality demonstrated on the nature of our beloved DIs.  He knew I was a kid missing my family and acted accordingly.  And when that was over, he knew he was foremost a Drill Instructor charged with making Marines ready for war and he acted as such.  Personally, the current me will always be more thankful for the latter, but to 17-year-old me I’ll never forget he did both.

A Unique Burden to Bear

As mentioned earlier, I had a great chat with the good people from ASMDSS and a fairly detailed conversation with the man many will know as D.S. Vader.  The inevitable conclusion is simply this, yes they remember their fallen recruits in war and yes, it does weigh on them.  I have a one-year-old son and were he to ever get seriously injured in a future fist-fight, I will forever feel that is my fault.  It is not all that different for our instructors and D.S. Vader made it clear that in the age of social media it is actually difficult to avoid such news about their former recruits.

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I know we all like to think of our DIs as Gunny Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, but none of us will know what Gunny would have felt when he got the news Private Cowboy was killed by a sniper in Hue City.  Sure Private Pyle saved him from that burden, but we will never know.  I can’t imagine the pride a DI feels when he graduates a new platoon of recruits and then to hear of them fallen in combat is a tough blow that clearly takes the wind out of you.  Yes, D.S. Vader and the others remember the fallen and yes, it lingers on them because the high character of your DI/DS demands it.

As a father now, I understand that parents will always remember their children as infants or toddlers and as a Marine, I will never look at my fellow warriors as anything but hardened men.  But hear this and hear it loud, our Drill Instructors and Drill Sergeants bear the unique burden of remembering us as both.  Once kids and now warriors, they witnessed the metamorphosis and they don’t forget it.  When one of their recruits fall in combat, if it were physiologically possible I could imagine them shedding a tear of genuine grief as a parent with their left eye and one on of genuine pride as a Marine with their right.  We were kids and they made us into men, Marines, and Soldiers.  To watch us fall on the battlefield is more than I personally could simply bear and I thank the men who endure it and then continue to make the next generation of warriors.

Mighty Men of Old

As Memorial Day approaches, let us never forget the fallen. The Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen we have come to know and love are worthy of a hearty remembrance.  But as we do, let us remember the giants among men we call Drill Instructors and Drill Sergeants who will give a similar remembrance for our fellow warrior and then a special remembrance for that kid who stepped on the yellow footprints or whatever you Army guys have.  Yes, Navy and Air Force Instructors too.  Coast Guard, meh.

via mca-marines.org

via mca-marines.org

They were the hardest men most of us ever knew, but make no mistake about it, they are men in all their humanity.  I’m thankful for the men of ASMDSS and DS Vader for their candid answers as it gives us all the more reason to pause and give thanks in this upcoming remembrance.  Give homage to your DIs and DS in the comments below by naming them and the one who can remember their names from the longest back will win a special prize.  By special prize I mean I’ll like you comment or something because this is after all, Unprecedented Mediocrity.  Drill Instructor Sgt. Dogan, Drill Instructor Sgt. Rivera, and Drill Sergeant Sgt. Matthews, I thank you now for bearing this unique burden and I even thank you for the endless hours in the pit and quarterdeck where the dumber this kid was, the stronger man you made of him.

Like the Unprecedented Mediocrity Page Below or Hit the Quarterdeck for some Pain!

Jeff Edwards

17 Comments

  1. Senior drill instructor SSGT Golden, SGT Nestale, SGT Smith, SGT Jackson. Platoon 2002,MCRD Parris Island. Graduated 11JAN1985. Semper Fi marines.

  2. SDI Sgt Gotel
    DI Sgt Card
    DI Sgt Wotford
    Platoon 1058 PI 2001

    I can still feel the spray of spit and chew tobacco on my face as Sgt Cadd screamed in my face. I sure he was the devil reincarnate.

  3. SDI SSGT Shelton
    DI SSGT Waldrof
    DI SSGT Reiker

    Plt 1087 MCRD San Diego, Summer of 1974. DI SSGT Waldrof made the news 2 years later when a group of Recruits he was training beat a kid to death at the Pu-gel
    Stick pit.

  4. SDI SSGT Frye
    DI SGT Vigue
    DI SGT Holt

    Platoon 1031 MCRD San Diego, Graduated 10 July, 1981.

  5. SDI Sgt Hummel, DI Sgt Elicker, DI Sgt Chinski. Semper Fi!

  6. TSgt Franco
    SSgt Cerillo (Spelled wrong I’m sure)

    3723 BMTS Flight 127 Graduated Feb 1989

  7. SDI SSgt Andrews
    DI SSgt Thornton
    DI Cpl (E-3) Dudley
    Plt 135 June 3 1961-Oct 3 1961 MCRD San Diego, Cal. Incidentally SSgt Thornton was my older brothers DI at OCS Quantico, Va in the summer of ’63 while I was stationed there.
    Red
    Semper Fi

  8. SR DS SFC Leary
    DS SSG Robertson

    2nd PLT, B Co. 12th MP Trng BN (OSUT)
    Ft. McLellan, AL 29 FEB – 07 JUN 1980

    Thank you for taking an undisciplined boy with little direction and showing him the start of the path to becoming a responsible man with values.

  9. SSgt R. L. Newman
    Sgt J. E. Leydig
    SSgt R. L. Littles
    SSgt Corte-Real
    (Newman was the SDI, he and Leydig were with us through the whole pain; Littles and Corte-Real were in in and out for several weeks, picking up their own platoons as SDIs)
    Plt 1104 9/74-12/74

  10. SDI SSgt Walls
    DI Sgt Norwood
    DI Sgt Martinez
    DI Sgt Garcia (just graduated SI school, and we picked him up the week we graduated)
    MCRD San Diego – Platoon 3070 – Lima Co – Graduation Date 11/1/1991.

  11. Former Drill Sgt Instructor US ARMY FT. KNOX,KY. We Trained NCO’S how to be Drill Sgt’s! And it was one Hell of a job. To teach Big Headed NCO’S how to be Drill Sgt’s. I enjoyed my 1 year tour as a Drill Instructor, but I also enjoyed being a Platform Instructor at Ft. KNOX Basic Noncommioned Officer Acadamy. I was a fair Instructor and took Pride in being the Narrator of all Graduating Classes. “Training the Trainer to be the LEADER” Hoo Raw. JD Taylor SFC US ARMY Retired

  12. 1988, Class 06-88. SSGT. Randy Barber, USMC. Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, FL. Naval Aviation Schools Command (NAVAVSCOLSCOM), Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS). Much to my surprise, when I showed up at AOCS for US Naval Officer training, I was not greeted by Petty Officers and Chiefs. I was greeted by United States Marine Corps Drill Instructors. Although our classroom instruction in US Naval Officer training and protocol and our aerodynamics, jet engines and navigation WAS imparted to us by other US Naval Officers, ALL of our ‘military training’ and PT was bestowed upon us by USMC DIs. Rifle cleaning and maintenance, rifle drill, sword drill (We were Officer Candidates), Inspections; all identical to venerable Parris Island training but with M-4s with cement filled barrels (They didn’t want us to kill each other) and no ‘Crucible’, which had not yet been invented..

    SSGT Barber went from fire breathing dragon to mentor in that short period of time, and he was an exceptional teacher. There were a few of us who were older, with life experience (I had already been a paramedic for nearly a decade by then), and he would put us in positions of, if not authority, opportunity to teach and instruct those with less life experience. All the while expecting every one of us in those ‘positions’ to excel AND assist our classmates (We were not called platoons) to excel as well.

    He was an exemplary Leader and was quite worthy of his name emblazened on a brass plate attached to a huge plaque with all the DIs that had served under the current Chief DI. That plaques was “Dedicated to the Men Who Train the Men Who Lead”.

    Thank you SSGT Barber. Your were a great mentor and Leader who taught me dedication, focus, and situational awareness. My only complaint is that since I was trained by Devil Dogs, I am a squid who can bark like a jar head. All of my US Navy friends are afraid of me, and all of my US Marine Corps friends don’t know what to make of me!!

  13. Thank you to Seinor D.S. Haigler, Drill Sergeants Lynch, Bevely & Cruz. I was assigned to the “Hell Hounds” platoon of Alpha Battery, 1/33 F.A.. Fort Sill Oklahoma, 1992. I am so fortunate to have these men of integrity, pride and professionalism change my life forever. It’s been over 20 years now since I was at Fort Sill and I still think of them every once in a while. To this day I find myself applying life lessons I learned while with them. I am eternally grateful.

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