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.
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.
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.
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.
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!