The Dumbass Chronicles: Crazy Drill Sergeant

Updated: July 23, 2013

By RU Rob

There are very few people who can’t recall some crazy story that happened during basic training. Usually they involve a sadistic Drill Sergeant who just seemed a little too far gone—had that 1000 yard stare and an evil twitch in his eye when he would yell. I had those same stories about my Drill Sergeants until I became one; then the old light bulb went off in my head and I realized that it could be fun to have a company full of trainees scared to death of me because I was straight-up cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

I was a Drill Sergeant in a Basic Combat Training Company at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. Before you start to even question what an infantryman was doing in the land of the pogues, let me answer…I have no freaking clue! My best guess is that the Army, in its infinite wisdom, needed a bunch of wild-men to balance out the prim and proper support Drills. There were a total of three infantrymen in my company and thank god one of them was my partner. Luis was the other grunt Drill Sergeant in my platoon and we got along great. We played off our strengths and always kept our soldiers in the dark as to what was coming next—just the way it should be.

Victory-TowerIn the second week of basic at Ft. Jackson all the trainees get to go through a series of events to boost their confidence. This culminates in a multi-story obstacle course and ends with a 50ft rappel down what is affectionately known as Victory Tower. It just so happened that the day our company was to visit Victory Tower my platoon was the duty platoon; meaning my partner and I would be doing all of the demonstrations and teaching the soldiers how to negotiate the obstacles on the course. The soldiers would execute all of the little obstacles, break for lunch, and then we would tackle Victory Tower right after. It was during this lunch break that Luis and I began to hatch our scheme into making me the craziest son of a bitch known to mankind and the subject of many ”Crazy Drill Sergeant” stories in the future.

But before I delve into that, let me back up a little bit. In Basic Training at the time, it was frowned upon to use curse words or to be vulgar in any sort of way. Especially if there were females present. It was a challenge to come up with new and creative ways to be vulgar without being so.

Every platoon had a life-size dummy that weighed about 80-90 pounds. It wasn’t true to life size but it was close enough. My partner and I would make our platoon take our dummy wherever we went. They washed his clothes, shined his boots; when he was outside he had on headgear, when inside he didn’t. I came up with the bright idea that our dummy needed to have a nametape made to reflect a proper last name. In a stroke of brilliance I came up with the perfect moniker…PVT Dick.

I could now freely and without consequence say: Where is my Dick? Why is my Dick dirty? Who in the fuck has been playing with my Dick? Why did you leave my Dick in the barracks and why is my Dick not at training? You get the point and yes, I am a genius.

Ok, back to the tower.

There are a few simple things that you need to know about rappelling to completely understand the simplicity and audacity of our master plan. First, the more friction created when rappelling the slower you go. In training, we would use an additional piece of equipment called a figure-8 to increase the friction by looping the rope around it several times and we would also use multiple ropes to further slow descent. When employed, the untrained and first-time user still thinks like they are moving faster than Felix Baumgartner jumping from the edge of space—but in reality they were just poking along. In the converse, however, the less you have in contact with your rigging, the faster you go.

The other thing you need to know about rappelling is that there is an additional safety at the bottom. This person commonly referred to as a belay-man. The belay-man can simply tighten up the rope by using his weight, creating friction, and causing the other person rappelling to instantaneously stop, regardless of the rigging used by the rappeller. The belay-man is pivotal in instances when someone is injured or, in the case of new soldiers, freaks out and can’t function due to fear.

When demonstrating the rappelling portion to new privates it is broken down into different scenarios to make it easier for the dim-witted soldiers to understand. The first thing Luis and I had to do was to show the new soldiers how to get out over the edge and stand on the 4 inch wide ledge.

I skillfully toted Pvt Dick up to the top of the tower, which was a feat in itself considering the only way up was to climb a freaking ladder with 90 pounds of dead weight haphazardly tied to my back; then took a 10 minute break.

The company was gathered below the tower. The 200+ baby-faced soldiers, full of nervous anticipation and excitement as they were finally going to get to do something cool in Basic Training. Each one staring up at Luis and I, waiting for our demonstration to end so they could begin.

The first task that we had to demonstrate was getting into the starting position. There was a 4 inch wide board at the top of the wall that one could easily stand on, but we still had to show the soldiers how to get out onto it.

rappeling 2Of course, I had to apply a little theatrics into all of this and played the part of the fat, scared soldier. Not wanting to go out on the ledge, Luis tried talking me into the position. It didn’t work so we had to step it up a notch and Luis started acting like the uncaring Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. And so it began, we went back and forth as Pyle was talked—no, yelled—off the obstacle. Once we had moved back from the ledge of the tower and out of view of our ever-attentive audience below, Luis continued to yell and scream at me in his best Drill Sergeant “Get off my fucking obstacle, Pvt Pyle” voice as I started to moan and groan as if Gunny Hartman were beating the shit out of me.

The privates all thought it was funny until I started to scream “NO, NO!” As those little giddy soldiers were staring up into the sky at a seemingly empty tower they heard one last “NOOOO!” from me and then “Get off my obstacle!” from Luis. Then, to their immediate horror they witnessed a body flying off the tower. There were a couple of shrieks for the first couple of seconds until they all realized that it was Pvt Dick who had made the fall. Then it was all giggles and chuckles for the company and even more so when I yelled down to my platoon matter-of-factly “Don’t just let my Dick lay there in the dirt, go pick up my Dick and put him away before he gets hurt.”

The set-up is complete.

There was a couple of other mundane demonstrations that Luis and I had to trudge through, and we did, but with a little flare for the extravagant. Each time we added a little salt and pepper to spice it up just enough to keep the audience interested for our grand finale.

Then the time had finally arrived. It was time to demonstrate the fall. This portion of the presentation would represent what would happen if a soldier who was rappelling down suddenly became so frozen with fear that they could not grasp the rope, create any sort of friction, and would free-fall down towards the earth—well sort of. Remember before when I explained the principles of rappelling and that friction slows you down? Well, in this case, the soldiers would have so much friction in their mandatory rigging that it would be damned near impossible for them to fall…period. But they didn’t know that and I felt it was my duty to instill that fear of falling into them…by demonstration.

If you also recall, to gain speed during any sort of rappelling you need to limit the number of friction points, which is what our master plan entailed. Both Luis and I had spent numerous hours/days/weeks rappelling and I fully trusted his rigging of me at the top of the tower. So much, in fact, that I didn’t even look down to see exactly how he had me rigged. Depending on how you look at it, that could be good or bad.

For the final demonstration I was once again talked out onto the ledge by Luis. I was showcasing my incredible acting and very convincingly conveying fear as he finally got me out into a good starting position.

The banter went back and forth between us again. But this time, instead of me climbing back onto the top of the tower, I clung to the edge for dear life. Luis was again screaming at me to start my decent down the face of the tower and with one desperate attempt I reached out to him with both arms.

The timing was picture perfect.

Luis gave my chest a solid push and I fell backwards.

My fall began gracefully, my arms outstretched, adding a little kick-off of the tower to give me distance and a piercing, 10-year-old’s scream for added effect.

I was using all of my Hollywood stuntman skills—flailing my arms and legs as if I had no cares in the world. I could hear the collective cries of panic coming from the soldiers as my body approached the speed of sound; my body in a perfectly horizontal position with my arms and legs spread as if making a mid-air snow angel; my eyes gazing into the heavens.

Then it hit me that I was falling fast—I mean really freaking fast.

Fuck! I forgot something.

061113-Victory TowerWay back at the beginning of this, I told you about the importance of the belay-man and how he has the ability to stop a rappelling soldier from falling. I also told you that in the normal, safety-conscious environment of Army training, there was so much rigging that it was damned near impossible for anyone to fall at any speed faster than turtle sex. Well, in our hastily executed plan, Luis and I kind of forgot one crucial piece of this massive display of craziness stupidity. We forgot to tell the belay-man what we were going to do.

Unbeknownst to me at the time (I was staring up into my next duty station) the belay-man was standing as usual—with a ton of slack in the ropes. When I first started off the tower he was looking up at me, expecting me to saunter down the rope and had zero idea that I would be falling at mach 3.

Luis also failed to mention to me that he was rigging me without the figure-8, on a single rope and was only using a single wrap in the solitary D-ring. For all of you non-mountaineering types, this means the only thing the rope was good for was to guide my free-fall off the tower directly into the dirt.

I was about half way down when the belay-man finally realized that I was falling a tad faster than normal. As it was recounted to me after the fact, he was described as frantically trying to bring all of the slack out of the rope and ended up jumping in the air, grabbing high on the rope, and then assuming a lying-down position to utilize his weight to bring the rope tight and stop me.

And stop me he did—about 8 feet from the ground. I went from holy-fuck-I-am-going-to-bounce to full stop in approximately 0.6 seconds. As such, my upwards-facing body bent backwards and I kicked myself in the back of the head with my heels, simultaneously letting out a very guttural and primeval groan of dissatisfaction.

My belay-man lowered me to the ground, the other cadre in the company running to my assistance, the rest of the company in complete silence and horror, their mouths agape and their eyes wide with fear.

My back was to the company when I was unhooked from the ropes. The D-ring, glowing red from the friction, burned my uniform as it was removed. I brushed off my cohorts so that I could complete my plan. My head lowered, eyes wide open and crazed with an evil sinister laugh, I turned and faced the company.

In my best “I am a complete lunatic and you had better not fuck with me…ever” voice, I slowly raised my head and barked as only a Drill Sergeant could do: “and that, boys and girls, is why you never, ever take your brake hand off the rope!”

I gave the entire company one more looking over with my crazed face then turned and silently marched away. As I walked I could already hear the comments of “that mother-fucker is crazy” and “holy shit, did you see that?” The seed had been planted and was firmly taking hold. What the privates could not hear was Luis, still on the top of the tower, howling with laughter.

I rounded the corner of the tower and out of sight of the privates, broke into a huge smile and grabbed my aching back at the same time. I thought my belay-man was going to kick-my ass but once I explained what Luis and I did, he was jealous of our brilliance.

As I look back on that day now, my back still aching, I may have not been the most brilliant, but I’ll be god-damned if every single one of those privates were not absolutely terrified of me for the remainder of the cycle. As a matter of fact, I am willing to bet I am the subject of a few “Crazy Drill Sergeant” stories.





  1. Fred

    July 23, 2013 at 8:33 am

    This wouldn’t happen to be drill sergeants from D Co. 1-67, would they? If I remember right, I had two infantry drill sergeants, and one of their first names was Luis…

    • Kevin

      September 22, 2013 at 11:20 am

      That would be D 1-67 Jan/Feb 98 if memory serves me right as I sat there watching this very show (or a duplicate of it) from below….

  2. Greg

    July 23, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Oh man Could you submit this to ASMDSS on facebook? I think they’d love this story!Plus hey, new group of people exposed to Ranger Up!. (Awesome Shit My Drill Sergeant Said)

  3. Risawn

    July 23, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Pure awesome! Sad to say, I’m one of those DSs that wanted to do crazy shit, however my Co was careful to keep us in line, so I have no crazy stories. I think the privates would have enjoyed it more

  4. Tom

    July 23, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Ho-lee-shit. That was awesome.

  5. Joshua

    July 23, 2013 at 11:48 am

    When we did the Hell Hole rappel in Marine Corps Boot Camp one of our DIs (Sgt Bell MCRD San Diego 1996) was chastising all of the recruits as they came down for being weak and scared little girls. He was the belay at the bottom of the tower. I was a boy scout and had rappelled and several occasions. I was confident enough that I thought I could pull off a bit of bravado. Once I stablized I swung the rope out and let it roll as fast as it would go. Just about the time I was going to rein it in I slammed to a halt. Sgt Bell calls from below “Green, you are one crazy MF’r.” I then controlled the last 10′ or so to the ground at a more reasonable pace.

  6. Brandon

    July 23, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Year ago, in a far off paradise, aptly named Sand Hill, I began my U.S. Army career. With a couple of hundred know nothing privates, we relied solely on our Drill’s knife hand to keep us from killing ourselves.

    Rappelling time came around. We had been practicing for 2 days, in the quad and most of the pvts had their confidence up. I had grown up in the mountains and had climbed and rappelled for nearly 10 years by this time. So, I did my best to assist others with getting over their fears, checking knots, checking rope harnesses (no, we tied our own, there weren’t any of these fancy pre-mades here).

    Like any good Drill would, they watched. They took notice, and they said nothing.

    On a relatively chilly Wednesday morning, and by chilly I mean 85 degrees at 10am with 60% humidity and scattered thunderstorms, we set off on a grand adventure to Victory Tower to do our best at not plummeting to our deaths. AS our march ended, our Senior Drill got this very maniacal look on his face. Nearly gleeful, he announced that we would NOT be using a “pussy ass, kindergarten 40 foot wall. Oh, no pvts, you’re going to be using THAT!” as he points to the free standing, nearly 90ft tower with the body of a dead and gutted UHH-1 Huey sitting at the top.

    This is about the time that the lovely smell of urine and fear permeated the air. Pvts were shaking in their boots, literally.

    Our Senior Drill begins his brief. Everyone goes up. Everyone comes down. You have 2 ways of getting off my tower, you rappel, or you get thrown off. While he is going his brief, one of our asst. drills calls my name. I snappily march over and report to him, safely away from the rest of the ‘toon. “Pvt, you have climbing experience?” “Yes, Drill Sgt!”… “How much Pvt?”…”Since I was about 8 years old Drill Sgt!”…”You familiar with safety protocols and alternate styles of descent?”…”Yes, Drill Sgt!”…”Good, you’re coming with us.”

    Now, any good private knows after a couple of days in basic, when the Drills single you out, you need to be worried. You’re going to be their practice dummy and you’re going to screw it up.

    A few minutes later, my Senior Drill and asst Drill and myself we sitting atop the tower. My Senior Drill, noticing that I am “sitting at the position of attention” chuckles and tells me “at ease pvt… and speak freely”. I crack a pretty good smile and ask “Drill Sgt, am I to assume that we are here to scare the shit out of the rest of the ‘toon?”… “Pvt, by the time we’re done, I want to be able to tell that half your classmates have shit themselves from all the way up here.” Everyone should know that chilling, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see your drill sgts smiling, not with the joy of watching pvts accomplish a task spectacularly, but when they know it’s about to hit the fan.

    And then, I am informed of the plan. Our asst. drill is going to go down first, to demonstrate the appropriate method of descent. He will brake 3 times on the way down, and then, once on the ground, disembark from the line and take over as the belay. Then I will be going down, in a manner such that, I either die i a very stupid blaze of glory, while rooting my ‘toon in terror, or become a legend amongst the men.

    About 10 minutes later, after a bit of discussion, including how stupid we are about to be, our asst drill is rigged up and ready to make his descent. Of course, he descends, brakes 3 times and disembarks without a hitch. But, now, it’s my turn. You see, our Senior Drill has decided that, I’m to begin as though I am going to rappel as everyone should. but being that I am aussie rigged, I will “slip and begin falling, spin around face first, scream blood murder, and just before impact, brake. Now, in my excitement, I forgot 1 very crucial thing, as apparently my Drills did as well. There’s no wall to walk down effectively keeping me balanced in the correct position for this type of descent… no worries, I got this.

    I climb out onto the ledge, give the appropriate “on belay?”…”belay on”…”on rappel”…”rappel on”. And the show begins…..

    Senior Drill starts in on me screaming in the way that only a drill sgt can. “Pvt, you will make your descent off my fucking tower, you will brake 3 times, and then you will disembark my line in an orderly fashion! Is that clear?”…”Yes Drill Sgt!”…”WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE?!?! GET OFF MY TOWER!” and whit that, I get a friendly boot in the face…

    My feet go up, my head goes down and I begin to fall. My harness jerks me around to face the ground and I let out with the most blood curdling scream I could muster. I orient my body into a diving position to keep some semblance of balance with my brake hand tucked neatly over my heart read to stop my mad free fall. You could easily hear the releasing of bowls scattered throughout my plt. All is going well HAHAHAHAHA!

    Until the end… You see, my ass drill on belay had a very different idea of when I should brake than what I did. Just before I was about to arrest my descent, he give the belay line a good hard yank, which, I was NOT expecting. 10 feet or so above the ground, the line jerks, I bounce upwards, my feet swing around, my brake hand comes away from my chest and I go into a near somersault. My asst drill must have had an “oh shit” moment and let slack into the line as I start to bounce. This has the net effect of now having no brake at all about 15 feet above the ground with my bounce coming to an end and my descent rapidly approaching the ground…again. As I’m coming down, I yank as hard as I can with my brake hand. I come to a stop not 1 foot off the ground, the jerk so hard that my knees, offhand, feet and k-pot slap the ground with enough force to make the lights dim a little bit.

    My Asst Drill runs over to where I am now laying, face down in the Georgia red clay. “pvt, you dead?”…”No Drill Sgt…”…”ok pvt, lay there a minute, we’re gonna ham this up a bit.” Then he proceeds to simulate checking my vital signs. Looks up at our Senior Drill and gives the knife-hand-across-the-throat signal. To which our Senior Drill responds with “AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FUCK AROUND ON MY TOWER!” “IF HE WASN’T DEAD ALREADY, I’D JUMP DOWN AND KILL HIM MYSELF!” “Drill SGT, FORM A DETAIL TO REMOVE THIS PIECE OF SHIT FROM MY TRAINING AREA!” Meanwhile, my asst drill is whispering to me “just stay still till I give you the go”

    He then proceeds to select a team consisting of the pvts whom they had singled out as the ones that would be the biggest problems and would most likely chicken out of the exercise. As they approach, he issues the orders:” pvts, you are to carry this refuse out of my ao and dump it in the tree line hooah!”

    As they reach for my “deceased corpse”, our asst drill nudges my boot and I spring up screaming BLARRRRRRG!

    Needless to say, more bowls were released immediately followed by a rousing round of laughter, then applause.

    Of the 210 pvts in my BCT company, everyone passed, even though 1 had to be forcefully extracted from the stairs with well placed palm strikes to the hands, as he had wrapped his arms around the steps.

    These are the kings of things that happened in the 90s when 2 of your 3 Drills, your Company XO, Company Commander, First SGT, BAT XO, and BAT Commander were all Combat scrolled Rangers and 70% of your BCT class are option 40. Good Times.

  7. Bill Trolinger

    July 24, 2013 at 3:28 am

    Back in the grand old days (69) I was at Ft. Lewis, Wash., and all my DS’s were Nam Vets and let us all know that we were going to Nam and die for our country. Well I was a draftee but I was gung ho but the worse part was that I was the only one from California!!! So they tried dogging me but that didn’t work as I told them I grew up in Missouri, our first day on the shooting range (we had the M-14 then) the 1Lt asked if any one wanted to see it fired differently so I said ya from his family jewels everyone shut up he told me to go see the sgt, he asks me if I ever shot a weapon before I smiled, he positioned the rifle down below which I soon changed a little then without him saying any thing I put the selector on full and sent 20 rds down range handed the rifle back to him and said not bad and went back and sat down and smiled, I scored 100% Then when we went to repple and since I liked doing the crazy stuff as much as my DS’s I got to go first the asst seen me putting my rope on backwards and askedme if I knew what I was doing and I said hell ya and yelled on repel, etc.. and down I ran on Austrailian balls to the walls. Told them I lived in Cali but was from Mo and that I was crazy too..got all the worst details after that but they would use me to march the others to training, I graduated a PV2 and 23 years later Iretired!

  8. Mike Heggen

    July 24, 2013 at 8:18 am

    My partner and I did the same thing at Jackson in 96, B 2-13. At the time, VT was an all wood structure located across the road from 1-61. Didn’t think to call the dummy “Dick.” Nice touch.

    In addition to both being 11Bs, we were also from the same BDE at Bragg so we saw eye to eye on a lot of things. We weren’t the biggest, burliest dudes in the world (“…If ya wanna be Airborne, ya gotta be thin!) so we had to make up for it by being the craziest, most psychotic SOB’s these kids had ever seen. By and large we succeeded. One cycle even nick-named us Vader and Maul. There was no “Good Drill/Bad Drill” with us. It was “Bad Drill/Worse Drill.” Good times!

  9. C.S.Chapman

    July 24, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Hey Rob,
    That was such funny shit, I still have tears rollin’ down my face from laughin’ my ass off…. I too am a graduate of Ft.Jackson, from the Jun 1986 “heat wave”….Can you comment on the year and company that you were with when you were “on the trail”….Just wonderin’????

    • RU Rob

      July 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      I was on the trail well after you were there, as a matter of fact if you went to Basic in 86 you had 5 years on me before I even enlisted. I won’t go too much into detail as to which Battalion I was in but it involved “Lions.”

  10. RPM509

    September 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    We were throwing dummies off of Victory Tower during the initial briefing in the late 80’s, and I am sure it was going on for many years before that.

    • Lloyd Smith

      October 6, 2013 at 7:54 am

      DS Ward, DS Cox and myself were throwing dummies off VT 95-97

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