Drill Sergeants: No More Mr. Mean Guy
Army Goes to Kindler, Gentler Approach to Training
By DEAN REYNOLDS
Oct. 11, 2006 — The Pentagon recently announced that all active duty services had met their recruiting goals for the budget year that ended Sept. 30. And now we have a possible reason why.
Drill sergeants have been told to cool it. All the cussing, swearing, in-your-face intimidation by a vein-popping, bull-necked brute is now passé.
You read it right. Drill sergeants — the toughest, meanest people in the military — have been ordered to try a more sensitive approach to the young male and female recruits who once answered to the name "maggot" — or worse.
David S. Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told The Associated Press, "However much it may be satisfying from the shouter's perspective, it really isn't the best way to shape young people for the future."
And it took the Army, oh, about two centuries to figure this out?
Chu said the Army must change the nature of how it treats the very people it wants to retain. And at a time of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is no small point. The military needs good men and women. Period.
So "less shouting at everyone," said Chu.
Veterans would probably chuckle, but according to Army Times, today's recruits can do their push-ups from their knees if they get too tired. Sit-ups can be accomplished with the help of a sleeping mat. Today's Army doesn't want recruits with bruised, er, tail bones.
The "kinder gentler" thing — adopted more than a year ago — may be working. The Army says it has reduced by nearly 7 percent the number of washouts in the first six to 12 months of a recruit's life. In place of the "shock treatment," the Army now urges its drill sergeants to adopt more the role of a counselor than an antagonist.
"We said, 'Drill sergeants, your job is to mentor, teach and coach these kids and help them be more," said Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Army chief of staff.
That has made a difference, according at least one commander.
"The soldiers shoot better, are in better physical condition, and their hearts and heads are in the zone, said Col. Jay Chambers, commander of 1st Combat Training Brigade, 13th Infantry Regiment.
There's more, and it says a lot about how stretched the military has become in recent years. We know that the age-of-service ceiling has been raised and some standards relaxed to absorb new soldiers, sailors and airmen.
But now, injured recruits who might have been discharged are given more time to recuperate so they can resume their basic training rather than leave the service entirely.
Chu told the AP that two-thirds of all recruits finish their enlistments, ranging from three to four years. The other third is made up of many who drop out in the first six to 12 months. Many who didn't make it often cited humiliating treatment as one reason.
Attrition, of course, is factored into the numerical goals the services put in place every year. Retaining too many recruits is unwise. Discouraging too many is worse.
So the drill sergeants must adjust. "Excuse me" will take the place of "I CAN'T HEAR YOU."
Because from now on it's No More Mr. Mean Guy.