EDMOND, Okla., December 18, 2015 — How do you picture a drill sergeant? As a stern, totalitarian figure; barking out orders with an unintelligible loud snarl, ready to pounce on your every misstep?
Or do you see them more as a mentor? Someone who takes the time to understand the individual strengths and weaknesses of their recruits? Perhaps a leader who takes a step back to see what recruits are going through to help them transform from citizen to soldier in 10 fast-paced weeks?
That's the real goal of the Army's drill sergeant program, and for the 2015 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer of the 95th Training Division, it's a skill he learned best through his civilian employment.
"I think the civilian sector has helped me particularly as a drill sergeant," Mercer said. "As drill sergeants, we've gone from that strict rule-enforcer and intimidating presence to more the role of counselor, coach, and mentor. Working with people outside the military has taught me to put myself in the shoes of people inside of the military and really take a look at what they're going through in order to best serve them."
Mercer began his career with the Army Reserve in 2002 as an X-ray technician and spent a combined 67 weeks in basic combat training and advanced individual training. His AIT was split between six months of classroom work at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, and six months of practical experience at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
"I have always liked the medical field and thought doing so in the Army Reserve would help me with what I wanted to do with my civilian career," Mercer said. "But it was my father who actually picked X-ray tech — I wanted to go infantry."
Because of his military training with an accredited program, Mercer was able to immediately take and pass a 200-question test earning him a civilian certification as a nationally registered X-ray technician. Putting his newly acquired skills to work, he landed a job near his hometown of Yukon, Oklahoma, and later received a bachelor's degree in administrative leadership and business management at the University of Oklahoma.
"The Army paid for every penny of that — 100 percent. Thanks to tuition assistance and the G.I. bill, zero dollars came out of my pocket," Mercer said.
Having come full circle with his military and civilian careers, Mercer said the military helped him to see the goal-oriented side of business, while the civilian sector helps him to deal with the human side.
"The Army Reserve is very structured. You are given a mission and you accomplish that mission, period. In the civilian workforce, you learn more of how to deal with people to accomplish that same mission," Mercer said.
Military Service Benefits Employers
Pam Fraim, Mercer's supervisor and the practice manager at Edmond Orthopedic Group, has worked with several Army Reserve Soldiers throughout her career. She said the skills that Mercer brought from the military have benefited the practice.
"The soldiers I have worked with are direct, disciplined and have high integrity," Fraim said. "I see both sides of the spectrum. I think if you would have talked to me when I first started here, I would have said that the direct, in-your-face style of management may have been an issue. But now I see that being direct, but being direct in such a way that gets people to follow you as a counselor, coach and mentor, can be a benefit."
She believes there is a direct correlation between the skills learned in the military and how you apply those skills to the civilian workplace.
"Mark has been a great help to me, especially over these last six months or so that he's been involved with the Drill Sergeant of the Year program," Fraim said. "He's stepped up to the plate as far as keeping people on task. He will take an issue and say, 'Okay, let's do this, this way, for six months and then come back and revisit it.' I think he's actually increased his management skills because of that program."