Have you ever woken up to the same hellish nightmare of three-phase cycles repeatedly until you no longer know what day it is? Have you felt the uncontrollable urge to wield the greatest noncombative, yet lethal weapon known to mankind in every conversation? Does your forehead bear the markings of greatness from a wide-brimmed hat of woolen death?


There are signs. These are the signs you may just be or have been a drill sergeant.

1. You are basically a vampire

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It's 4 a.m. on a good day and long before the crack of dawn. You're there, in the dark, ready to delicately wake the trainees from their slumber. Likely, with an airhorn. Fast forward to sundown, and you're three energy drinks in, waiting to put 200 almost soldiers, Marines, sailors, Coast Guardsmen or airmen to bed. Up before the dawn, home under the moonlight. You're basically a vampire.

2. Caffeine is your new blood type 

The regulation states 6-8 hours per night, but cycle 2 has shown you humans can live (sort of) off much less. How do you function? Caffeine, copious and copious amounts of caffeine. Has anyone ever seen a drill instructor without a coffee or energy drink in hand? I think not. Pushing 18-20-hour days, seven days a week for two miserably long years requires such.

3. Your stare is so terrifying, it produces cries on demand

Perhaps nothing is as terrifying as a silent drill sergeant. Am I in trouble? Was that good? Is this horribly, horribly wrong? They have no idea, and that's the entire point. What's even worse? Dark glasses and silence. The memory will (hopefully) haunt their dreams.

4. Multiple personalities are part of the gig 

It takes far less than sixty seconds to royally piss off a drill instructor. Fear then rage, then empathy and more fear are all emotions drills can flip between without pause. It's the terrifyingly good performance you must put on daily to keep the illusion that you still actually care. The daily goal is keeping the entire company on their toes.

5. You speak in catchphrases 

Yes-no, criss-cross pizza sauce, it's not rocket surgery. Did you get that? You live the same three-phase cycle for two years, with hundreds of faces making almost the same mistakes as the last cycle. You've got to keep it interesting somehow. The more ridiculous you are, the better your impersonation will be when the trainees imitate you at the end of the cycle.

6. You are the knife hand, and the knife hand is you

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The knife hand is strong with you. Its power is the multi-tool you never knew you were missing. It commands attention, corrects stupidity, instills fear, shows direction, and slices the air with precision. Its powers are so great, you no longer need to speak to converse clearly with trainees as to what they better hurry up and do.

7. You produce legendary nicknames

You're reading off the roster and have no idea or could honestly care less about how to pronounce the next name. Instead, you improvise, gifting the lucky trainee with whatever condiment, thought or mistake they're likely to make. Mistakes are often the go-to for renaming trainees to more accurately reflect the personality they are growing into. No shower shoes? Flip-flop is your new name, enjoy it buttercup.

8. You are perpetually pissed

Maybe it's the lack of sleep, the sheer stupidity you witness day in and day out, or the fact that your last unit just deployed without you. Or maybe it's all of it. Either way, you're salty. Without the salt, you'd be normal, and normal is not part of the personality description behind drill instructors. The hatred boiling inside keeps you warm at night.

Life on the trail is the hellish nightmare you love to hate. It's an experience engrained in who you've become. Every service member remembers their drill sergeants, both with a fondness and fear that they'll never forget.