Thursday, April 3, 2008


A lead-grey sky threatens rain as the "3rd Herd" heads out towards graduation ceremonies from basic training at Fort Dix. The "3rd Herd", officially designated 3rd Platoon, B Company, 5th Battalion, 3rd Basic Training Brigade, is unusually quiet as they march towards the main post parade grounds where family and friends wait to see them pass in review. No march songs this week. A recent and probably temporary whim from command. There is grumbling among the ranks about the order. Grumbling about orders is a God-given right of all American soldiers. You grumble and then you obey.
Singing to marching cadence harks back to earlier times and certainly both of this century`s world wars. ~3rd Herd is the Honor Platoon this training cycle so the platoon has plenty to sing about as they march.
Today's graduation ceremony is symbolic of the end of recruit training. The end a hurdle that is remembered by many generations of American soldiers. Basic Training and eight long weeks of learning about military life. That first day of Basic seems like a life time ago. That first moment when they met the single most important person in a young recruit's life. That first second when all their senses came in contact with their DRILL SERGEANT.
28-year-old Staff Sergeant Cynthia Strohl walks into a dimly lit barracks room where the floor is covered with the inert bodies of 40 some odd green-clad young recruits who lie sprawled across bulky duffel bags. The room smells of freshly waxed floor and brand new canvas. Staff Sergeant Marion J. Medeiros, Sgt Strohl's training partner for the new 3rd platoon is already explaining the ground rules for surviving basic training. A veteran of nine years in the army, Sgt. Medieros stops his speech as Sgt. Strohl, Senior Drill Sergeant for the platoon, moves to the front of the room. Sgt. Strohl looks around the room with a practiced eye, watching for tell-tale signs of personality and character in the young faces that are giving her their full attention. None of the young recruits seem to give any indication of surprise that their senior drill sergeant is a woman. Sgt. Strohl moves to the front of the room next to Sgt. Medeiros.

"ON YOUR FEET", she yells.

The room seems to darken as a blur of green leaps to attention from the floor, blocking most of the light coming from the windows behind them.
Looking pleased Sgt. Strohl then gives the order to sit back down.

Strohl pauses long enough to let those words sink in.

Forty some-odd sets of eyes give her their unflinching attention. Salient bits of information like this will not be repeated.
As the meeting progresses each trainee gets the chance to stand and tell the others their name, home town, and reason for joining the army. One recruit reluctantly admits he joined to get away from home. In his case home turns out to be only a few miles away from Ft. Dix. This confession brings laughter.
Another trainee explains he joined to get a persistent recruiting sergeant off his back. More laughter. Now he adds, he wants to get out of the army. Strohl and Medeiros do not laugh.
The two drill sergeants listen carefully to each story. Judging each recruit they need to find leadership potential within the new platoon. These recruit leaders will help to organize and the lead the others into becoming a team. Consequently this first meeting can have far-reaching effect on some of the young soldiers budding military careers.
In the long history of the U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Cynthia Strohl is not the first female soldier to serve with men. During the Revolutionary War New Jersey citizen Molly Ludwig Pitcher so distinguished herself at the Battle of Monmouth New Jersey in 1778 that General George Washington made her a sergeant for her bravery. Later he placed her on a list of half-pay officers for life. During the Civil War there were many documented cases of women found posing as men in combat infantry regiments. Women were not officially recognized as soldiers in the United States until the formation of the Women's Auxiliary Corps in 1942. The name was shortened to Women`s Army Corps or WACs in 1943.
In 1969 President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a bill that freed women from the limitations of rank and duty that had been imposed on them prior to that time. In 1972 the first female drill instructor graduated from Drill Instructor School at Fort Jackson South Carolina. In 1977 the first female drill instructor trained male recruits. Soon after came the introduction of coed basic training. Although coed training was discontinued in 1982, female drill sergeants like Sgt. Strohl continue to train male recruits. There are 80 female sergeants serving as drill instructors in the army today.

A native of Tampa Florida, Strohl joined the army nine years ago, originally enlisting to become a plumber and then changing to personnel management. After a string of state side assignments and a tour overseas in Germany she needed a change. One day Sgt. Strohl found herself standing at attention in her commanding officer's office. The captain informed her she had been selected to go to Drill Sergeants School. No questions. That was it. An honor she could not refuse. My March 1983 she was beginning her first basic training cycle at Fort Dix. The pace was grueling. Days began at four in the morning and lasted until after nine at night. She survived and she thrived.

Basic Training has undergone some major changes since Vietnam. More emphasis is put on practical exercise and performance testing, with increased hands-on equipment training. As in the old days trainees are taught marksmanship with their basic infantry weapon, the M-16 assault rifle. They are also given exposure to military history, military courtesy, chemical and biological warfare, and of course physical exercise.....the daily dozen that any veteran will remember.
The training day for the recruit is still long but the emphasis has shifted from the traditional harassment that used to turn the recruit from civilian thinking to military. Smarter, and better motivated than the average recruit of the past, these trainees respond to training rather than brain washing.

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