What is an Army Drill Instructor?

A drill instructor in the United States Army is a veteran soldier, usually a career non-commissioned officer, whose job it is to teach new recruits the fundamentals of army life and the army’s mission. Only the US Marine Corps uses the title “drill instructor,” so a person in this position should be referred to as a “drill sergeant.” While the title implies that the army drill instructor is responsible for teaching recruits the basics of protocol, drill, and ceremonies, such as marching, saluting, executing the manual of arms, and other military practices and customs, the army drill instructor is also in charge of training recruits as combat soldiers, so that regardless of their actual job in the army, they will always be ready to defend themselves and their comrades.

The task of indoctrinating a new recruit into the military lifestyle is crucial. All military services expect to be able to work together as a highly efficient team, responding quickly and without question to orders whose underlying logic or strategic importance are frequently unavailable to the team. Recruits must be able to blend in with the rest of the team. During basic training, many of the routines and exercises are designed to break down the recruits’ sense of self and selfishness, replacing it with a sense of obedience, fraternity, and selflessness. The army drill instructor is the most important of all the personnel involved in the new recruit’s training, as he or she is often the deciding factor in a recruit’s success or failure.

Army drill instructors are usually volunteers, though some are chosen the Army based on their qualifications. They go through a rigorous training program that covers the same material as new recruits, as well as training and leadership topics. The Army drill instructor wears the round brown campaign hat, also known as the Smokey the Bear hat, just like a US Marine drill instructor. Most new drill sergeants’ first assignment after graduating from drill instructor school is to command companies of recruits who failed their initial physical fitness test and were assigned to Fitness Training Company, or “Fat Camp.”

New Army recruits are placed in training units right away for basic training, also known as boot camp, which consists of a nine-week course in Basic Combat Training (BCT), followed advanced individual training (AIT) in the recruit’s assigned military occupation specialty (MOS). Each recruit platoon, which has about 40 recruits, has a drill sergeant assigned to it who will work and live with the platoon full time for the duration of their BCT and, in some cases, AIT. During this time, the army drill instructor’s role will change. Recruits are constantly monitored and corrected in the early stages of training, but as they gain skill and self-confidence, they are given more freedom and are subjected to less control and monitoring.

The platoon’s drill sergeant is in charge of overseeing all aspects of recruit training and reporting to the company commander on progress. Furthermore, the drill sergeant will be in charge of teaching the recruits all aspects of drill and ceremonies, including issues of army protocol such as marching, conduct with non-commissioned and commissioned officers, treatment of the flag, uniform, service customs and practices, and so on. In addition, with the help of additional army drill instructors, the drill sergeant will train the unit in small unit tactics and lead physical training.

An expert army drill instructor is usually assigned to teach a topic that requires a high level of proficiency, such as specific individual weapons, hand-to-hand combat, or map reading. Drill sergeants command the platoon, while the marksmanship instructor commands the marksmanship facility. Finally, the drill sergeant teaches recruits the Army’s core values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage in both classroom and barracks settings.

A tour of duty as an Army drill instructor is a significant milestone in a non-commissioned officer’s career, and typically lasts two years. Those who complete such a tour successfully can expect to be assigned to positions with significantly more responsibility and prestige.