Alaska Army National Guard's
first female drill sergeant has spirit
December 13, 2007
CAMP DENALI, Alaska - Known as the Last Frontier, it's not surprising
the kind of people who are drawn to Alaska-adventurous, gregarious
and trailblazing to name a few.
It's also not surprising at the kind of Soldiers the Alaska Army
National Guard enlists. They can easily be described as true
Alaskans - the kind of people you want fighting for your state
and nation, the kind of people you are proud to call Arctic Warriors.
One Soldier in particular has taken hold of this spirit and has
become the first female drill sergeant in the Alaska Army National
Program drill sergeant, Bonnie Cochran calls cadence to keep
her new recruits in step during August drill.
Photo by Sgt. Karima Turner
Sgt. 1st Class Bonnie Cochran, a resident of Palmer, originally
came from Nebraska where she was a member of the Nebraska Army
National Guard. Cochran served as an instructor for what was
then called the Primary Leadership Development Course and moved
to Alaska in 2003 in the hopes of new job opportunities and experiences.
"This has definitely been a new experience for me,"
Cochran said. "I've always wanted to be a drill sergeant
because to me a drill sergeant is the ultimate role model with
ultimate responsibility. I've talked to people who've retired
from the service, and they can still recall their drill sergeants'
names. To have that great of an impact on someone is incredible."
Although training Soldiers is not completely new to Cochran,
training civilians to become Soldiers is.
"As an NCO, I couldn't possibly think of anything greater
or better than being a drill sergeant. I taught PLDC (Primary
Leadership Development Course) for four years at an NCO (Non-Commissioned
Officer's) academy, full-time, and this is even BETTER, I love
"The greatest thing you can teach someone in the Army is
how to be a Soldier," Cochran said. "It will affect
their Soldier skills from there on out."
Before Cochran could even begin to teach the new recruits how
to be Soldiers, she had to go through rigorous drill sergeants
school herself, learning to be a teacher, mentor and motivator-a
New recruits for the
Alaska Army National Guard begin their training in the Recruit
Sustainment Program with Drill Sergeant Bonnie Cochran keeping
them in line while marching during August drill.
Photo By Sgt. Karima Turner
"Drill sergeants school was like basic training plus another
eight billion hours of classroom training," Cochran said.
"It was hard, but I wouldn't change a thing about it."
Since returning in July from drill sergeants school in Fort Jackson,
S.C., Cochran has joined the Recruiting and Retention Command
as the Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP) drill sergeant.
"Every state has a Recruit Sustainment Program," Cochran
said. "One of the ways the National Guard Bureau has found
to improve the program is to train and assign drill sergeants
to RSP; it helps to ensure that new Soldiers are at least somewhat
prepared for what they will face at basic training."
During RSP training, Cochran focuses on teaching the recruits
everything from drill and ceremony and rank structure to rappelling
and basic medical tasks.
"It's almost like pre-basic training," Cochran said.
"Every year the requirements for these soldiers change,
and at drill sergeants school, we are specifically trained on
the things that will prepare our Soldiers for their military
Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Ray, Recruiting and Retention marketing
non-commissioned officer said Soldiers like Cochran, who come
back from drill sergeant's school know first hand what young
soldiers are going to experience when they go to training.
"If we can recreate that atmosphere even in the slightest
bit, it will prepare these guys and girls better for when they
take off and the better off they'll be when they get there,"
Ray said. "We would like to see more National Guard Soldiers
take advantage of the opportunity to become drill sergeants;
the more people we have at the RSP doing what Sergeant Cochran
is doing the better."
At basic training, Soldiers are required to successfully complete
certain tasks before they graduate, and that's what Cochran is
training them to do.
"For example, they are going to have to rappel, and it's
going to happen probably within that first week," Cochran
said. "If they don't rappel, they don't graduate. So what
I'm doing here is kind of stacking the deck in their favor. I'm
saying, 'Okay, we're going to go rappel, and I'm going to show
you that you can do it.' So when they get down to basic training
hopefully they go off no problem, and they continue through basic
training and graduate; it helps them to take some of that self-doubt
off their shoulders."
Cochran said that aside from teaching civilians to be Soldiers,
it's important to her that she can be someone for her Soldiers
to look up to.
"I want to be a good role model, that's what I want to be
for them," Cochran said. "We only read about the drill
sergeants who are doing bad things, but for every bad one, there
are a dozen more doing the right thing, training civilians and
turning them into warriors to defend our freedom."
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