New Emphasis on Drill Teaches Confidence, Pride
Judging as Company D works its way through the drill sequences is 2nd Battalion Sgt. Maj. Justin Klein. – VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.
LEXINGTON, Va., March 26, 2012 -- One Wednesday afternoon late in January, VMI’s 4th Class cadets formed up in companies on the turf field in the new North Post Training Area. Preparing for the final drill competition before Breakout, they were looking sharp and working hard.
Regimental Sgt. Maj. Ryan Blank ’13 and battalion Sgts. Maj. Stephen Stolz ’13 and Justin Klein ’13 had taken on the challenge of re-energizing rat drill training, and the cadets lined up on the field, 4th Class in coatee with arms, the master sergeants in coatee with swords, were about to demonstrate just how successful their initiative had been.
“The purpose of the drill competition is to provide the executive officer an opportunity to inspect the rats and their drill proficiency,” said Klein as he looked over final details before the competition began. “He wants to see that they’ve learned all the drill movements and that they’re able to execute them with … accuracy.”
Once the scores were tallied, Company E was deemed the sharpest. The company had been drawing attention to itself throughout training, even working on segments of drill sequences in the evenings on the march back from Crozet Hall.
“It was real initiative on their part,” said Regimental Executive Officer William Wild, who judged the performance of the master sergeants.
“Their master sergeant was really committed to making them win,” added Klein. The 4th Class cadets were judged by the three sergeants major.
Klein spent two years enlisted in the Marine Corps, which, he said, has a “huge emphasis” on drill, before matriculating at VMI. He and the other two sergeants major had approached Wild early on with new ideas for drill instruction.
“It’s something that I thought was important,” said Wild, who gave the go-ahead for the three to change things up. “Drill is a very good mirror of company discipline. It’s a very good indication of how the company has been trained all along.”
Klein worked with Blank and Stolz to learn new drills, consulting both the Army and the Marine Corps drill manuals. Then the three undertook the task of training the master sergeants, who, in another innovation, were themselves to be graded.
“They’ve made the drill a little more complicated. They’ve spiced it up,” said Wild. And as for each master sergeant: “His work is reflected in the rats’ performance, so it’s only fair to grade them.”
“I think they rose to the occasion,” said Klein. “They were learning literally from hell week to the last week.”
In fact, that element of progression was deliberate, Klein said, as a strategy to maintain interest and decrease boredom. Even the format of the competition was new. Each of the master sergeants had been given the drill sequences just the day before.
“Now,” said Klein, “these new movements are an institution.” He hopes next year’s officers will add additional sequences to the repertoire, since he believes drilling well is unique in its ability to build esprit de corps.
“It’s a psychological thing, even for people who don’t like drill,” said Klein. “When you get a whole squad, when you spend all the hours training and they’re drilling with intensity, they feel pride.” It teaches cadets how to have command presence, he said, something even those not planning to commission should develop. “A VMI cadet should be able to lead people with confidence and bearing.”