Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston returned to the place where his Army career began Friday to see if combat basic training today differs from what he remembers.
A native of Jasper, Ala., Grinston enlisted in the Army in October 1987 and came to Fort Sill for both basic and advanced individual training. He returned here a decade later to serve as a drill sergeant with his old outfit, 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery, from 1997-99.
The World War II barracks where he stayed are long gone, and he finds a lot has changed.
“The soldiers are better. Everybody likes to say, ‘Well, what was it like?’ You know, we’re still doing great. The people that we bring in, they’re smarter, they’re fit, and the future for the Army looks really good,” Grinston said. “And it’s always good to come back to see how it’s changed. And we’re not doing the same things I did as a drill sergeant 20 years ago.”
This visit is four months into his tenure as the 16th Sergeant Major of the Army. Ostensibly, he came to speak at Fort Sill’s sesquicentennial St. Barbara’s Day Ball Friday evening.
But he did many other things as well. One was marching with basic trainees of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery after watching them fire their M-4 carbines at the 25-Meter Range.
“It has changed a little bit, but Oklahoma’s still the same place. On a beautiful day like today, it’s nice and flat and good and windy,” Grinston said.
“The targets and the roads are a little bit familiar, but the training is completely different than what I went through 32 years ago. But the area and everything still looks extremely familiar,” he said.
Grinston agrees with the saying, “You never forget your first drill sergeant.”
“Yes. Drill Sgt. Holmes. No. I do not stay in touch with him. You know your drill sergeant, but you don’t call him for Christmas. That doesn’t happen,” he grinned.
Grinston said that if you’re senior adviser for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of the Army, it’s always good to get a feel for what it’s like to go through basic training.
“So, I had breakfast with soldiers, walked through the barracks. I’m going to talk to some soldiers for lunch. This morning I asked them why they joined the Army,” he explained.
Grinston said he talked to the soldiers about setting goals.
“That would probably be something I would give to almost every American in the world: have goals,” he said. “And if you achieve those goals, then make new ones. You’re going to be a better person for it.
“One of my goals was to be Sergeant Major of the Army. But I immediately established some goals that I would like to have for the Army, and now I’ve got four years to achieve those goals.”
He spoke of maintaining self-discipline over his 32-year Army career, aware that some of it would be tedious.
“It’s how do you maintain those small things every day, like fitness,” Grinston said. “For 32 years, I get up and I still do PT. You’ve got to maintain that for a long time and you’ll get to your goals. Whether it’s your fitness, your health or your eating habits, the main thing is that over a lifetime that’s actually what goal-setting is all about.”
Grinston said he believes the U.S. still has “greatest Army in the world,” though we struggle with doubt.
“And we’re hard on ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of things we need to work on, but make no mistake: We have the greatest Army, and we serve the people of the United States, and we’re going to protect them with our lives if that’s what it comes to.”
He also got a firsthand look at some of their training. Upon arriving at Training Facility 2 on the East Range, he got an unexpectedly warm greeting from the 1-19 FA battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mark Larson. Larson said the last time they saw each other was 15 years ago in Iraq.
Drill Sgt. Joe Marquez briefed Grinston on what he would see, and 1-19 FA Command Sgt. Maj. Scott Slater gave reporters some background on what the B Battery trainees were engaged in.
Now in week eight of basic, they are going through their capstone event, The Forge. They marched four miles at the rate of a mile every 15 minutes to get to the 25-Meter Range, Slater said.
Upon their arrival, the key component was to put them under stressful conditions by having things go off in the background and letting smoke drift across the firing range. With the weapons, each soldier was carrying a load of approximately 40 pounds.
“Once they get on the lane, they’re going to acquire that alternate course target. One target per silhouette on it,” Slater said.
The drill sergeant got their heart rates up so they would be under stress while firing. The trainees would immediately put their rucksacks down, go into a prone supported position and acquire the targets on their own. Each soldier had to expend two 20-round magazines. They executed the task and then cleared off the range, bringing their battered paper targets with them.
For the final task of the lane they had pre-combat checks. This mimics a pre-combat inspection — an inspection of their equipment to verify that they did indeed pack the right stuff to come to the range, Slater said.
Larson said the soldiers are in their final two weeks and will graduate Dec. 18.