Overworked Drill Sergeants Offered Brief Reprieve at Basic Training Battalion

Families of the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, share fellowship in the 1st 72-hour room
Families of the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, share dinner and fellowship in the 1st 72-hour room, Feb. 6, 2023. (U.S. Army)

Life as a drill sergeant is taxing. Noncommissioned officers assigned to any of the four basic combat training installations across the Army are usually up at 4 a.m. and aren't home until the late hours of the night. They are almost always on call during training cycles and constantly away from their families during their two-year assignment on "the trail."

Those at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the largest of the four training bases -- which sees an average of 1,000 basic combat training soldiers graduate every week, are getting an olive branch: an area where drill sergeants can spend time with their families and "take a break from the grind of the first 72 hours" of a training cycle.

The 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, calls it "the 1st 72-hour room."

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"To help foster a positive climate, we create[d] an enclosed space for young children to play where parents are still close enough to monitor children but can still sit, eat and socialize with their family or other members of the battalion," Lt. Col. Anthony Messenger, commander of the battalion, wrote in a press release Thursday.

The room is open once every cycle -- 10 weeks -- from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. beginning on the second day of the training cycle.

"We play family-friendly movies on the screens and provide activities to help entertain the kids, enabling the adults to connect," Messenger wrote. "This enables drill sergeants to spend time with their loved ones and friends as their schedule allows."

While the time frame seems small, some soldiers that Military.com spoke to said that the brief interlude could help offer balance that is often lacking in a drill sergeant's life.

"The idea is great," one current senior NCO with drill sergeant experience told Military.com on Friday. "The first 72 hours is extremely demanding and leaves no time for any type of family interaction," adding that drill sergeants working those three days can get as little as two and a half to four hours of sleep per night.

"Most [drill sergeants] choose not to go home during the first 72 hours because of how little sleep they'll get," the NCO added. "Even if it's just an hour away to see your kids and wife, it would be a nice break."

The initiative falls under the Army's "People First" program, a strategy primarily meant to tackle pervasive issues like military sexual assault and suicide -- ones that have plagued the military and those who serve in it over the last two decades.

But the policy also aims to chip away at seemingly small, but nonetheless important issues related to family care and balance, problems that can become a factor for military families when it comes time to decide on reenlistment.

Some former soldiers that Military.com spoke to viewed the 72-hour room with a healthy dose of skepticism, given how busy those first few days are for trainees and a general military propensity for the "good idea fairy" to strike at times of chaos.

"Without looking at the [plan], I have questions about manning, and I wonder how they assessed potential impaction to mission," one former company commander in charge of drill sergeants at Fort Jackson told Military.com on Thursday. The NCO who was a former drill sergeant also said it would be interesting to see how the initiative could impact the mission.

"But it is a step in the right direction," the former officer continued. "The more time families spend in the battalion footprint, the better leadership can understand their soldiers, and spouses can get a better understanding of the demands of being a drill sergeant in a training cycle."

The unit repurposed the battalion conference room for the new effort, a space that usually serves as a hub for unit planning. Now, for that time, families and drill sergeants can use the space to watch a movie, play games and eat potluck style for breakfast and dinner.

"The center of gravity for our mission success is our drill sergeants," Messenger wrote. "We believe this event helps to forge stronger individuals, teams and families."

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

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