The US Army has taken a long, hard look at an Advanced Individual Training program devoid of drill sergeants- and is looking to reverse their decision in the removal of the “round browns.”
In 2007, Army drill sergeants were removed from AIT units (though they remained in One Station Unit Training), replaced with AIT platoon sergeants as a way to recognize a soldier’s transition from basic trainee and help new troopers understand the role of the NCO in “Big Army.”
Unfortunately for Army policy makers, it seems the towering and authoritative shadow of the drill sergeant was instrumental in maintaining discipline in AIT units.
“How does an individual control a crowd of 120 if you are not vertically gifted and taller than everybody?” said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, the senior enlisted soldier at the Center for Initial Military Training. “They can’t see you. There’s no self-discipline. If I put distinctive head gear on you, that sphere of influence is increased to 30 meters around you.”
Another factor was the AIT platoon sergeants themselves. While drill sergeants receive extra pay and perks, the platoon sergeants were seemingly shorted in the transition, which led to less control, lower morale and little incentive to apply one’s self.
“Often, individuals have no desire to come out and do it because there’s nothing in it for them,” Gragg said.
“Quite honestly, we have put them in the middle,” he added. “You know, the drill sergeant gets a badge and some special pay. The instructor can earn a badge, and I can’t do anything for my AIT platoon sergeant.”
The issue is not a new one, even for Gragg. In 2016, assessments determined that the current generation of recruits may require more focused leadership during their training, even well into AIT.
“It was a matter of trying to get them to associate authority with a figure other than the hat,” Gragg said last year. “But what we didn’t realize and didn’t take into account is the drill sergeant in the AIT environment is still working on that soldier.”
Combining these woes with the fact that the Army has softened its approach to training, the return of a “harder” AIT -and possibly more utilization of OSUT-type environments- may be on the horizon.
Until then, the US Army has to navigate fiscal minefields and bureaucratic pitfalls to improve the current environment. While only baby steps in the desired direction, Gragg hopes to see AIT platoons once again led by drill sergeants in the fall of 2019.
“We know that the force would like them there, we know that there’s a deficiency in warrior tasks and battle drills in the force,” Gragg told the Army Times. “We know there’s a decrease in discipline.”
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