by Dan Perkins

We all know and fear him: the black drill sergeant. And for many of us, the image of an unrelenting black drill instructor was indelibly etched into our consciousness by the Academy-award winning performance of Louis Gossett, Jr. as Sergeant Emil Foley in the 1982 film, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMEN. Two years later, Adolph Caesar further instilled the image of an over-bearing drill sergeant in the 1984 film, A SOLDIER'S STORY.

Through the years, mean, black drill sergeants have been central figures in countless theatrical releases, television dramas and sit-coms, made-for-TV/Cable films, and even television commercials.

If you turn on your television set this holiday season, you're likely to see a Dell Computer commercial featuring a black drill sergeant who beats up on a group of technically challenged would-be computer buyers.

It's safe to say that the image of the black drill sergeant has become an American cultural icon, but such images run the risk of lessening our awareness of and our respect for African Americans who serve our country as drill instructors and recruiters.

On December 5th, the U.S. Marine Corps' (USMC) website posted an article about Sergeant Malcolm Ammon, a senior drill instructor with Company G, Platoon 2028. Ammon headed up a three man training team that recently turned 77 recruits into Marines. The recruits graduated the day the article was posted to the site.

Unlike the merciless drill sergeant portrayed in the Dell commercial, Ammon was acknowledged for taking a common sense approach to training, which included granting his junior drill instructors occasional breaks, as needed. According to the report, the 32 year-old Ammon not only succeeded in creating a work environment that produced results and reflected the Corps' work ethic, but he also respected the dignity and humanity of his subordinates.

Ammon may have developed his more "compassionate" or "holistic" approach to training because of the toll more traditional approaches have had on him and his family. In the USMC article, Ammon is quoted as saying: "I have seen what this job can do to a family and to a marriage. It has taken a toll on my family."

Ammon's most recent success, which involved training a larger number of recruits than is typically assigned to a three-person drill team, speaks volumes about his management abilities. Central to Ammon's success was his ability to borrow from past experiences - including the lessons learned through adversity - in order to form effective strategies that produced desired results. Whether in the military or in the private sector, it is an ability that transforms men into leaders.

With the graduation of the 77 recruits, Ammon completed the last of seven cycles with Company G. He is now with the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion where he will receive a new assignment.

The End

Photo of Ammon by Lance Cpl. Jess Levens