History

This is how salty old Vietnam drill sergeants and instructors were made

If you've seen Full Metal Jacket, then you likely agree that Gunny Hartman was the breakout character of the film. That over-the-top, engrossing performance launched the career of R. Lee Ermey — even though his character met an arguably-deserved end.

But how do they really train the non-commissioned officers responsible for breaking in fresh recruits?


Believe it or not, in some ways, it's a lot like boot camp. Both the Army and Marine Corps schools for those who instruct recruits (drill sergeants for the Army, drill instructors for the Marines – we'll refer to both as "DI" for the purposes of this article) are designed this way on purpose: The DI needs to be an expert on basic training, so they must experience it for themselves.

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Beals, a drill sergeant stationed at Fort Knox, demonstrates instructor technique during a media campaign.

(US Army photo by Tammy Garner)

But are they all really like Gunny Hartman? No. Let's face it, some of what Gunny Hartman did to Pvt. Pyle (as played by Vincent D'Onofrio) would have landed him in some serious trouble. Furthermore, his overly aggressive technique simply isn't always the best method.

"You can't yell at everyone. You have to use, as my [non-commissioned officers] used to tell me, your tool box and you need to use those different tools. You can't always yell at someone to get them to do what [they need to do,]" Army Drill Sergeant Dashawne Browne explains.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego - Recruits from Alpha Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, receive instructions from a drill instructor during pick up at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

(USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Kailey J. Maraglia)

It's not easy to become a DI. The Marines take in roughly 240 prospective DIs in a given year, and as many as twenty percent drop out. That might sound low for such an important position, but neither the Army nor the Marines take just anyone who applies. The Army seeks "the most qualified NCOs" who are willing to take on the responsibility of teaching recruits "the proper way to do absolutely everything in the Army, from making a bed, to wearing a uniform, to firing a rifle."

Learn how DIs were trained back in the Vietnam War era in the video below.