Meet The Drill Masters
Despite the name, drill instructors are not the only individuals responsible for the instruction of drill within Marine Corps recruit training.
Among drill instructors a select few who distinguish themselves with their performance are chosen to serve as ... drill masters ... aboard the depot.
A drill master serves as a subject matter expert in the instruction, execution, and evaluation of ceremonial drill. They instruct drill instructors on how to teach drill to recruits and oversee the performance of recruits during drill evaluation events; grading both recruits and their drill instructors.
A highly visible billet to hold, the drill master is selected based on their personal merits, outstanding appearance, and prior performance on the drill field.
According to the United States Marine Corps Drill and Ceremonies Manual, drill is ultimately used, not only to move a platoon from point A to B in an orderly fashion, but to also teach discipline by instilling habits of precision.
Ceremonial and close-order drill is paramount to unit cohesion and discipline at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. It is a part of what makes Marines themselves stand out as an institution.
Gunnery Sgt. Dominick Dickson trains “the future of the Marine Corps.” As the drill master for Drill Instructor School aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, he’s tasked with mentoring and guiding DI school students on the ins and outs of close-order drill.
“I get to transform these Marines into the image of ‘the drill instructor’ that people think of, singing and marching,” said Dickson.
Dickson was chosen for his position because he exemplifies the ‘whole Marine concept’ in his appearance, the way he carries himself, and his ability to lead Marines.
Dickson said he enjoys the unique opportunity to influence these Marines from essentially the ground up as they arrive on the depot.
”You will be listened to in this billet,” said Dickson. “The interaction you get with senior drill instructors and chief drill instructors, officers, sergeants major, is unique. It’s very rewarding and it holds a lot of power.”
Staff Sgt. Graham Ofori is the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion Drill Master.
The billet of drill master is a highly visible position. A Marine is selected by a battalion sergeant major during a competitive board process. Marines are judged on their performance during their time on the drill field, and how they conduct themselves amongst other Marines. Staff Sgt. Graham Ofori was selected in November of 2020.
“It has its ups and downs, and specific learning points,” said Ofori, reflecting on his service as a drill master. “The best part of this job though is that it gives me the opportunity to see how an entire battalion and regiment conduct drill and gives me an opportunity to influence the drill instructors before they go forward to teach recruits.”
For some, being the Drill Master is an opportunity to grow as a Marine and become a better, more impactful leader. Staff Sgt. Montana Casper, the 2nd Battalion drill master, is an example of such a Marine.
“It has a lot to do with leadership abilities,” said Casper. “Do drill instructors feel like they can confide in you and talk to you? Can they come to you with drill related questions and you answer them the right way? It’s not an opinionated job, it’s all in black and white.”
The billet of drill master is not as simple as just judging a recruit platoon’s precision; there’s more to being a face of the battalion.
“What makes it unique is that you’re in charge of a lot,” said Casper. “The billet is drill master, but you’re not only the most experienced at teaching drill. You’re also really good at being a drill instructor, you know all the billets. You’re like the battalion hype-man.”
According to Staff Sgt. Cynthia Rutherford, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion drill master, a drill master is “a representation of the battalion as a whole and is expected to be the example of what it means to carry yourself with poise and esprit de corps.”
For Rutherford, being the drill master means having a certain passion and a certain willingness to learn as well as instruct.
“I wouldn’t say anybody getting the position of Drill Master is the best at drill always, but it’s somebody that has the enthusiasm to be the expert at it,'' said Rutherford. “They are a face of the battalion, and through their time being a drill instructor, has proven themselves to be somebody of maturity, with enthusiasm about the job, and willing to put the work in to become an expert in those areas.”
Becoming the drill master often gives Marines a new reach in their leadership. What they teach isn’t just a small lesson. It carries over and influences those they instruct and leaves an imprint.
“My favorite part is being able to have an impact on basically every drill instructor in the regiment,” said Rutherford. “Being able to pass on the passion and drive, not just within drill, but into the future of the Marine Corps. These recruits will take what we say with them and carry it on, all the way from the smallest basics of discipline. I believe that comes from drill. They take that out to the fleet Marine Corps and can build on it from there.”
Staff Sgt. Richard Perry is the 1st Recruit Training Battalion drill master.
“My favorite part of being the drill master is having influence across the regiment, said Perry”. “I can speak to any drill instructor from third or second or fourth battalion and get their knowledge and push down my own knowledge to them. I get to shape any drill instructor and mold them going forward to become a better drill instructor.”
It is agreed amongst the drill masters that it is a rare billet to hold. It is something to be proud of and to use to your advantage to develop as a Marine and as a leader.
“I think being a drill instructor in general is unique,” said Perry. “But, being able to take that step up and be the drill master, with there being only five across the island, is another layer on top of that. Interacting with the highest levels all the way down to the lowest levels is not something just a green belt drill instructor has the liberty to do. It’s truly a unique job to have.”