FLW earns DSoY title 4th consecutive year Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 September 2017
Staff Sgt. Chad Hickey completes the ropes course, one of the surprise events, during the 2017 TRADOC Drill Sergeant and Platoon Sergeant of the Year Competition held at Fort Leonard Wood last Sept. 11-15. Photo by Mike Curtis, Visual Information Center
By Joe Lacdan
Special to GUIDON

For hours he had walked alone in darkness, navigating his way through the uneven terrain of the Ozark wilderness. Before dawn, on a crisp late summer morning, Staff Sgt. Chad Hickey and his fellow competitors had completed combat readiness exercises, performed drills and marched along rocky trails at the western edge of the Mark Twain National Forest.

The staff sergeant had pushed his body to its limits until he felt weary and exhausted. The day before, he had gone 20 hours without sleep while engaging in fitness exercises and performing drills that could save lives in combat.

As he sat in the bleachers of Fort Leonard Wood’s Gammon Field Sept. 15 awaiting the Drill Sergeant of the Year contest results, he didn't think he had much chance of winning.

When Hickey looked back over the competition last week, he said there were many other worthy competitors. One was Staff Sgt. Sean Jolin, an athletic, decorated drill instructor from Fort Benning, Georgia. Jolin had graduated from the Army's Ranger and Sniper schools and served three tours in Afghanistan.

Another contestant, Sgt. 1st Class. James Calfa, had deployed in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom as a mortar gunner and radio operator. Corey Irwin, a drill sergeant from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, had experience as an M249 machine gunner, infantry carrier commander and as a sniper section leader.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, Center for Initial Military Training command sergeant major, presents Hickey with the Drill Sergeant of the Year trophy at a ceremony on Gammon Field Sept. 15. Photo by Angi Betran, Visual Information Center

“Honestly, it was kind of intimidating,” said Hickey, a 35-year-old senior drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood. “There's a lot of highly-decorated people in there ... a lot of infantry; a lot of combat arms, a lot of people that have more experience in the Army than I do.”

After a grueling 12-mile ruck march through the forest Friday morning, the competitors sat side-by-side at Gammon. Hickey looked at his competition and picked the two he thought would win. He didn't think he was one of them.

Then he heard the announcement on the intercom. Hickey was named the 2017 Drill Sergeant of the Year.

“I was very shocked,” said Hickey, a correctional specialist who has been a drill sergeant for 15 months. “There was a lot of great competitors out there this year … I thought I wasn't doing that well in the competition.”

Staff Sgt. Bryan Ivery, one of the competition’s best      athletes, earned Platoon Sergeant of the Year honors and the Tobias C. Meister physical fitness award.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Moldovan said he geared the Drill Sergeant of the Year contest to meet the changing needs and standards of the Army.

“The competition evolves just as the Army evolves,” said Moldovan, the 2016 reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year and 2017 planner. “The regulations are constantly changing with the times, with the way our enemies are changing and evolving. And the way we fight is changing, and the way we shoot is changing. So we wanted to make sure the competition was completely up to date.”

Each of the competitors had done their part fighting America's wars on hostile battlefronts. But in Fort Leonard Wood’s rugged woodlands, they faced a different challenge — an increasingly physical and mental contest.

Last year's winners, Moldovan and Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Laspe, spent a year travelling to Army installations, taking notes and watching which drills worked and which needed tinkering.

Among their priorities: create tests that push Soldiers to extreme limits by scheduling contrasting events after each other. Laspe and Moldovan broke up the land navigation course into two parts, one after a round-robin event, and scheduled the other at 2:30 a.m.

“Being able to operate in an austere environment with unknown circumstances, rapidly changing conditions … and still maintain your composure and execute your mission,” Laspe said. “That’s what being a Soldier is all about. They proved out there they have what it takes, and they are the ones we need training these Soldiers for the best possible Army of the future.”

Moldovan called the last event the “fight house,” where after complete exhaustion, a competitor must confront an enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Soldiers had to grapple with another Soldier in a base training gym.

“When you have nothing left in the gas tank,” Moldovan said, “you still have to be ready to fight and finish the fight, because your battle buddies are relying on you.”

The Army created the drill sergeant contest in the 1960s. Through the years, the competition has increasingly built greater standards. Command Sgt. Maj. Blaine Huston of the Army Reserve Command, who competed in the 2002 contest, said this year's class of drill sergeants and platoon sergeants faced greater hurdles from the competition 15 years ago.

“The most physical thing that happened was the APFT,” Huston said of his competition. “And now you got drill sergeants out there having to have to hump a ruck down the avenue … They don't know when it’s coming. Their mind never gets to shut off. Their bodies never get to fully recover, and I don't think they get to fully hydrate.”

Drill sergeants, like many who wear the uniform, share an unspoken bond, Ivery said. During the course of the competition, these drill and platoon sergeants encouraged each other and gave each other tips. They shared ideas to bring back to share with their home units and Soldiers.

Hickey said he learned much about where he could improve during the APFT, but his knowledge of battle drills and tactical communication, moving under fire and other warrior tasks helped him rise to the top of the competition.

“I personally am going to take the lessons I've learned here and take it back to the trainees and my fellow drill sergeants,” Hickey said.

(Editor's note: Lacdan works for Army News Service. The article in its entirity can be found at www.army.mil/ article/194000)
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 October 2017 )