A ceremony at Fort Gordon on Oct. 18 marked the end of an era.
"Some are concerned; some are anxious; some are worried, but it's not a day to be worried. It's a day of celebration," said Col. Frank Penha, commander of the 15th Signal Brigade, who officiated at the drill sergeant de-hatting ceremony.
Drill sergeants have been a force in the Army since 1962, when a pilot program to develop trainers of trainers began.
At Fort Gordon, drill sergeants worked with students in Advanced Individual Training, the next step after basic training. Now only Army installations that have basic training will have drill sergeants. Fort Gordon does not offer basic training.
Fort Gordon's 74 drill sergeants will have new duties as platoon sergeants.
"There are two reasons for the change," said Penha. "We are an Army on the move and an Army at war. When the Army at war needs to reorganize, we do."
The other reason for the move is that soldiers in basic training are in a tightly structured environment. In advanced training, they remained in that kind of environment.
Before the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers would transition from Advanced Individual Training to a unit, where they would be more independent. Now, with many soldiers deployed immediately after advanced training, the only time for that transition is during that training, he said.
"It must happen in the training environment," Penha said.
Sgt. 1st Class Harold Rivera was the last of Fort Gordon's drill sergeants to be named Fort Gordon drill sergeant of the year.
He said it was a day of mixed emotions.
"There's always sadness when something happens that you don't expect," said Rivera, who will remain at Fort Gordon until December 2008 as a platoon sergeant.
However, he said, the former drill sergeants will perform their duties to the best of their ability despite the changes.
"I think it's a good change. It will give younger soldiers a whole lot more opportunities to interact with" noncommissioned officers, he said.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel P. Watkins, a former drill sergeant of the year for whom Fort Gordon's drill sergeant of the year award was named, was the keynote speaker.
"This is a major undertaking," he said. "It's going to work. Failure is not an option."
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