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Remembering my drill sergeants

November 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Veterans Day is gone, but I’d like to make a belated post about the topic. For our newspaper, we did a special section of various stories on veterans. One was where the vets reminisced about their drill sergeants.

So, I thought I’d reminisce about three I remember well. Alas, I have pics of only two…

Drill Sergeant Richard Kenner

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I went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, from February to April 1996. It began cool, became cold enough for snow, then ended with temperatures that almost hit 90. That’s probably typical for the Show Me State.

My company was Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment. We were the last to pass through, as 5-10 was reclassified as 2-47.

Sgt. Kenner (a few cycles after us, he would become Staff Sgt. Kenner), had this steel, blue-eyed gaze you could see from about 500 meters away. We were all afraid of him at first as he seemed very no-nonsense and sarcastic. One soldier complained about him to a female cashier at the commissary, not knowing the cashier was MRS. Kenner. Thankfully for them, Sgt. Kenner found it too funny to get angry.

He made us do pushups and other punishment and had no tolerance for mottos yelled wrong, cadences out of step, rifles not taken care of, barracks not kept neat. Whenever he’d have us do pushups as punishment, he’d always yell, “Just freakin’ DROP!”

I tried to avoid getting his attention, but once on the rifle range, he looked at me firing a rifle and said, “Private Zowie, are you a WRONG hander?!”

He’d seen I was a lefty, but before I could get too indignant, a left-handed drill sergeant interjected and made it clear there was nothing wrong with being a southpaw.

Towards the end, of course, we could see that Sgt. Kenner really cared for us, and I grew to where I actually looked forward to having him around.

Before graduation, he came up on his off-day as he somehow knew many of us wanted him to sign our yearbooks. He signed mine as well. “Be hard or be gone. No room for wimps.”

That phrase has helped me get through some rough patches in my life.

Drill Sergeant William Thompson

Sgt. First Class William Thompson was my drill sergeant when I was at AIT at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, from February to April 1998. Like Fort Lost-in-the-woods, it was bitterly cold and then became scorching hot. I’ve often thought if a person wanted to invest in wind energy, they should set up those towers in San Angelo. Each day, it seemed, it was windy enough to blow off Burt Reynolds’ toupee.

I expected to have a sadist for a drill sergeant, but Drill Sergeant Thompson was fair. He was tough, but he made it clear: don’t give me a reason to be hard on you, and I won’t. He had a family that he loved to spend time with, and he made it clear he’d rather spend weekends with them than having to babysit us due to some punishment.

The first time I met him, he saw my wedding ring and asked about my family. I told him my wife (now my ex-wife) was pregnant.

“Is she having a boy or girl?”

“A boy, drill sergeant,” I said, noting it was best to address them at least every third sentence.

“Outstanding, PFC Zowie,” Thompson said, smiling. “I told my wife she wouldn’t be able to quit child bearing until she gave me a son, and now I have three!”

When we did PT, Thompson encouraged us to use proper form on pushups. “If you do pushups incorrectly, you will become an expert at doing pushups the wrong way, and on the day of your APFT, you will be one very sorry soldier!” he said.

Thompson’s PT sessions often left me tired, but I easily passed my APFTs and I even lost more weight while at Goodfellow: I went there at 165 pounds and left at 158.

When the day came that I finished AIT and was able to exchange my generic U.S. Army brass pin for a military intelligence pin to officially become a careerist, I chose Thompson to pin me on.

Drill Sergeant Larry Gilman

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How does Sgt. First Class Larry Gilman look in the picture? No smile, mean, you say?

He was 6’4″, around 220 pounds, deep, gravelly voice, used profanity in almost every sentence and seemed well-read about the world from a military perspective.

One day, he looked at us while we were in formation. He saw my nametag, which read ZOWIE.

His dark brown eyes had this look that seemed to say, “I’d thought I’d seen it all.”

“You’ve gotta be [EXPLETIVE] me!” he said, almost as if trying not to laugh. “Is that really your last name, private?!”

I assured him it was and offered to let him look at my driver’s license.

Shortly after that, Gilman was reassigned to be an interim first sergeant at another company. “They gave me a big pile of [EXPLETIVE] and told me to make it smell nice!” he told one soldier.

The last I heard of Gilman was from a copy of Army Times. He’d been promoted to master sergeant. I’d love to meet him again someday, as I’d often think he probably had a million stories to tell.

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