By Maj. Michelle Lunato, 98th Training Division (IET) Public Affairs Officer /
FORT JACKSON, S.C. – Earning the title of drill sergeant is a highlight not all Soldiers can achieve. However, Staff Sgt. Briana Popp, an Army Reservist, did just that and more.
After completing the challenging nine-week drill sergeant course at the Drill Sergeant Academy, Popp, earned her drill sergeant campaign hat and badge alongside 90 other noncommissioned officers March 8 during a graduation ceremony at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Popp, however, stood out among her peers, and after all the scores were tallied, she had earned two additional titles: The Distinguished Honor Graduate and Iron Female.
Popp, an Army Reserve Soldier with 3-518th, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), took the Iron Female title with a score of 299 out of 300 on her Army Physical Fitness Test, which included two minutes of push-ups and sit-ups and a timed two-mile run.
Popp was so immersed in doing her best in the fast-paced course that she didn’t realize the honor grad title for academic scores was a realistic option.
“I didn’t think it was true at first. It kind of surprised me.”
The title didn’t surprise her husband though, but it wasn’t just for reasons of love and pride. He knew his wife was well prepared for the course because he is a drill sergeant himself. Staff Sgt. Victor James Popp, an active duty drill sergeant with Echo Company, 2-19 Infantry Battalion, 198th Infantry Brigade, at Fort Benning, Ga., said he knew his wife would do well at the drill sergeant school, and even exceed his own performance.
“I wish I could say I did the same, but she’s twice the Soldier I am,” he said.
Outperforming others was not Popp’s goal exactly. She just wanted to be and do her best because that is what she learned from her drill sergeant.
“My drill sergeant was always squared away. His [physical training] was on point. He was always the picture perfect, poster child of a drill sergeant,” said Popp.
This example of leadership was also magnified by her drill sergeant’s message, said Popp.
“My drill sergeant used to say, ‘It takes the best to train the best,’ and that always stuck in my head.” And since then, Popp said that she was hooked and wanted to become a drill sergeant herself.
As many Army Reservists, Popp had to prepare herself for military school all while working a full-time civilian job. But the Columbus, Ga., resident said her civilian job as a surgical technician at Jack Houston Memorial Hospital unknowingly readied her for the hardest part of the drill sergeant course-working with so many other strong personalities.
“Sometimes [at the hospital], I work with difficult people who I’ve had to handle in different ways, so it’s definitely helped me deal with my peers and other drill sergeants since I’ve been here.”
Strong personalities are expected, if not required, for drill sergeant candidates, but there can be a down side. When you get a lot of dynamic people together, it can be challenging, said Popp.
“When you come to the Drill Sergeant Academy, you have a lot of very strong leaders who are used to leading Soldiers. And it’s hard to come together and bring those strong leaders to work together.”
Working with both active duty and Reserve drill sergeant candidates in the course, Popp finessed her communication skills. And after learning the Army’s best drill sergeant practices, she said she’d take her new military skills into her civilian job at the hospital, like a true Citizen-Soldier.
“The drill sergeant course built my confidence as a leader, a person and a surgical tech. It has given me the extra confidence to stand my ground the next time I need to.”
Confidence is a hard thing for many people, including Popp, but she recommends that any noncommissioned officer considering becoming a drill sergeant take the risk.
“If you find yourself wanting to teach and improve the fighting force, it is definitely something you should do.”
Of course, preparation is key. The nine-week drill sergeant course should not be taken lightly and Soldiers should come prepared.
“You always have to bring your A game,” said Popp.
But after weeks of hard work, and maybe some self-doubt, deserving candidates will earn the revered title of drill sergeant and don their campaign hat and drill sergeant badge. And putting on those iconic items makes all those challenging weeks “really mean something,” said Popp.
“The hat and the badge have been the light at the end of the tunnel.”
For noncommissioned officers interested in taking on the challenging and rewarding role of U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeant, contact Sgt. 1st Class Dorothy Sherrin at Dorothy.email@example.com 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, and Puerto Rico.