Watching Drill Instructors Armed with Experience
SCOTT SIMON, host:
NPR's Tom Bowman spent some time recently at the Army's recruit training base of Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He watched recruits learn how to survive a convoy under attack, how to beat back an enemy ambush. And as he watched the training, he started to notice something.
Here's his Reporter's Notebook.
TOM BOWMAN: After a little while here, talking with the drill sergeants, I realized they had something in common.
Sergeant First Class VICTOR DOUGHERTY (Drill Sergeant, Fort Jackson, South Carolina): I was in Helia(ph) in a power plant. I stayed in a power plant. We used to get mortared and everything else.
BOWMAN: That's Sergeant First Class Victor Dougherty. Here's Sergeant First Class Sarge Juan Burgos(ph).
Sergeant First Class SARGE JUAN BURGOS (Drill Sergeant, Fort Jackson, South Carolina): We were based out of al-Assad. At first, we went into Ramahdi and we moved to al-Assad.
BOWMAN: Sergeant Robert William Thomas(ph).
Sergeant ROBERT WILLIAM THOMAS (Fort Jackson, South Carolina): Yes, I spent six months in Iraq in 2003.
BOWMAN: They all had combat duty in Iraq. Then, there's First Sergeant Chuck Nye(ph). He's different from the rest. A crisscross of scars covers his face. Where his left eye once was, there's a glass replacement. At times, tears pull around the eye socket and he wipes them away. He's 38, with a rapid-fire delivery of his native New England.
Nye recalls what happened outside the Iraqi city of Tel Afar, the day a man pulled up driving a car bomb.
First Sergeant CHUCK NYE (Fort Jackson, South Carolina): I was in my cot. We heard the machineguns. I kind of sat up, started putting my boots on and he detonated. And it was right outside my window. I happen to be, you know, on the ground floor, closest to him, in front of a glass window, in a wrong place, wrong time.
BOWMAN: His soldiers were not seriously injured.
First Sergeant NYE: Luckily, I was the worse one. So I was thankful for that, you know, so all my guys we're good to go.
BOWMAN: In talking with these veterans, I realized the Army now has more experienced drill sergeants than at any time, perhaps since World War II. Nye and others know what combat is all about. No one can better teach recruits.
First Sergeant NYE: You know, everybody coming back kind of have really made this training what it is. And, you know, everything that they're teaching these guys, oh, lord, it's, you know, it's going to save their life.
BOWMAN: It all reminded me of stories I heard when I covered the U.S. Naval Academy more than a decade ago. Gray-haired alumni recalled the Marines and sailors who returned from World War II to help train them along the banks of the Severn River. These combat veterans knew what was important in training and what was not.
Some of these drill sergeants at Fort Jackson hope to get back to Iraq. Nye will not be among them.
First Sergeant NEIGH: I loved it there. But, you know, talking with the doctors, talking with my family, talking with, you know, the commanders, they're, like, look, you know, come on. You know, what are you doing? You know, you got nothing left. And I knew they were right. And it broke my heart.
BOWMAN: So now, an old Army buddy is putting Nye to work. He has a job in the oilfields.
First Sergeant NYE: Nobody trying to kill me so, you know, how bad could it be?
BOWMAN: In November, Nye will take off his uniform after nineteen and a half years in the Army. He'll pack up his things and drive southwest to Texas.
SIMON: NPR's Tom Bowman.