Women’s History Month – Female drill sergeants transformed the Army
By Maj. Michelle Lunato, 98th Training Division (IET) Public Affairs Officer /
The drill sergeant hat is an icon in the Army that creates vivid images.
When people see a Soldier wearing it, they immediately feel respect because they know it is a job that is earned, not given.
The hat that comes to mind for most, is the male drill sergeant hat, commonly referred to as the brown round. The female drill sergeant hat, however, holds just as much responsibility. It just hasn’t been around as long, or as much, but it certainly has history.
In February 1972, six noncommissioned officers in the Woman Army Corps from Fort McClellan, Ala., enrolled in the Drill Sergeant Program at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Upon graduation, they were authorized to wear the newly designed female drill sergeant hat that was designed by Brig. Gen. Mildred C. Bailey.
“Those six women and that hat transformed the entire Army … and my life,” said Command Sgt. Maj. (Retired) Jennifer Dehorty, cemetery director intern, National Cemetery Administration, Veterans Affairs.
Dehorty’s statement is not exaggeration. It’s merely a fact of her own experiences as a trainee at Fort McClellan in 1981.
“All the cadre we had there were former WAC drill sergeants,” said Dehorty. “The esprit-de-corps that we learned from them was different. It was stronger … We even carried ourselves different than the trainees from other posts.”
Dehorty was so inspired by her drill sergeants, that she became one herself in 1984. But like a true Soldier trained by some of the Army’s first female drill sergeants, Dehorty pushed hard to do her best. And in doing so, she earned The Distinguished Honor Graduate title over her peers.
Looking back, Dehorty said she wasn’t trying to exceed the standards, she just wanted to meet them.
“In the day, those women not only set the standard, they WERE the standard. And I couldn’t think of being anything better,” Dehorty said.
A little over 45 years have passed and those first female drill sergeants are still remembered for their bravery, said Staff Sgt. Briana Popp, an Army Reservist with 3-518th, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), who graduated March 8 as The Distinguished Honor Graduate and Iron Female from The Drill Sergeant Academy.
“They stared in the face of adversity and never backed down,” said Popp. “The personal courage those first six drill sergeants put forth, paved the way for not only female drill sergeants, but just female Soldiers in general,” she said.
Years have gone by since the Army’s first female drill sergeants, and progress is still being made.
In 2009, Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King became the first female commandant of The Drill Sergeant Academy.
Six years later, Capt. Kristen Griest, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Maj. Lisa Jaster all became the first female Army Rangers.
In 2017, Pvt. Jennifer Sandoval became one the first two females to earn the combat engineer military occupational specialty.
With more and more women paving the way and others joining the Army, female drill sergeants will play a vital role in tomorrow’s Army.
“Being a drill sergeant is the most important job in the Army, hands down,” said Staff Sgt. Briana Kozain, drill sergeant leader at The Drill Sergeant Academy. “From the moment that civilian enters my world, I have the ability to plant a seed to change their entire life.”
Like Dehorty and Popp, Sgt. Earlandrius C. Parker, a drill sergeant with the 108th Training Command (IET), became a drill sergeant as a result of her experience with her drill sergeant.
“She inspired me and had such an impact on me that it was my mission, once I became a noncommissioned officer, to do all the things I needed to do to get to where I am today and become a drill sergeant,” said Parker who graduated with Popp from The Drill Sergeant Academy in March.
Of course, becoming a drill sergeant is not an easy task. It takes hard work, dedication and training, but it’s not impossible, said Parker. “It is obtainable. You can do it,” added Parker who invited the drill sergeant who changed her life to her graduation.
Many female Soldiers have the ability to become a drill sergeant, they just need to believe they can, said Staff Sgt. Crystal L. Doherty, a combat medic who earned her drill sergeant title along with Popp and Parker and will be going on the trail at Fort Benning, Ga.
“Never let anyone tell you that you are not good enough. Always strive to be stronger than the next person. And, just keep pushing forward. There are no limits,” Doherty emphasized.
With each new trail blazer, the Army gets better and more diverse.
Many female drill sergeants said it is not about being female. It is about being their best and serving the uniform with pride.
Perhaps the best explanation about being a female drill sergeant, however, came from the highest ranking female drill sergeant there is to date during a 2009 interview with the New York Times.
“When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a female,” said King. “I see a Soldier.”
For noncommissioned officers interested in taking on the challenging and rewarding role of U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeant, please contact Sgt. 1st Class Dorothy Sherrin at Dorothy.firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-475-2307 (cell) or 706-626-0443 (office).
The 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training) has units in: Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Connecticut, California, and Puerto Rico.