NEWS | Aug. 25, 2021

Kentucky Soldier makes history as the state’s first National Guard drill sergeant

By Jesse Elboaub Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office

Kentucky history was made on Fort Jackson in South Carolina when Staff Sgt. Mary Carter became the first Kentucky National Guard drill sergeant on June 25, 2021.
 
A native of Rochester, New York, Carter relocated to the Kentuckiana area after her father settled home post-military career. She joined the Kentucky National Guard in 2007 to go to college debt-free and ultimately attended the University of Kentucky, holding a master's degree in psychology.
 
Before becoming a full-time recruiter for the organization, Carter worked as a dialysis technician while serving as a traditional Guardsman, drilling one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer for annual training. For 11 years, she served the Commonwealth as a combat medic.
 
"I remember getting off the bus at basic training, and the first person I saw was a female drill sergeant," said Carter. "I was taken aback because I didn't know what to expect, but from that moment on, I knew that is what I wanted to do."
 
While historically, Guard Soldiers have had opportunities to become drill sergeants, it is by no means a common occurrence. In 2019, a partnership began between the Active Army and the National Guard where a plan was developed that opened the opportunity for National Guard Soldiers to attend the academy per Army.mil but the slots are minimal.
 
Because of that, Carter put the thought of becoming a drill sergeant in the back of her mind and pressed on with her career.
 
About a year ago, there was word in the recruiting battalion that Kentucky was allotted a seat for the Drill Sergeant Academy. Without hesitation, she put her name on the list of hopefuls and got back to work.
 
"I was originally not supposed to go, and about three weeks before our initial phase one started, they offered me the slot," said Carter. "I said ‘YES’ immediately-my commander asked if I needed to talk to my husband. I told him nope, my husband is in the Guard too, he understands."
 
Carter then left for Fort Jackson, coincidentally the same military installation she went to for basic training almost 14 years prior to the day. The class started with 132 non-commissioned officers from across the country and graduated 118. Of those, only three were National Guard Soldiers.
 
"It was crazy to see it all over again -- to be right across the street from where I went to basic training," she said. "In the Guard, we say "roger" all the time. At basic training, roger is dead. I had to write roger's obituary while at school because I couldn't stop saying it out of habit. I wasn't laughing then but looking back it is funny to know all the little games are still being played between drill sergeants and trainees."
 
Carter, receiving the slot only three weeks prior, had minimal time to prepare physically and mentally. She was ten months postpartum but had zero reservations about jumping on the rare opportunity. During her six weeks at the academy, typically nine but reduced due to COVID-19, at no point did she feel like she wouldn't be able to complete the mission.
 
"We were tested, and people failed - people went home for PRT (Physical Readiness Training)," Carter said. "Of all the obstacles to climb, that was one I stressed about the most."
 
PRT is a series of drills to include preparation, activity, and recovery. The standards are strictly enforced due to the importance of injury prevention. Exercises are conducted in a specific order, at a particular pace, and are not to be altered at any time.
 
"There were days when I felt like I am not as good of an NCO as I thought I was. It was very humbling," she said. "Throughout my six weeks at Jackson, I was continually faced with the reality that no matter how much I thought I knew, there was always room for improvement and more to learn.
 
As a recruiter, Carter says she tells her recruits before they leave that they will get out of basic training what they put into it. She took her own words to heart the day she arrived on Fort Jackson.
 
Since returning home, DS Carter has taken a position as the acting Drill Sergeant for the state. Once a month, recruits awaiting basic training departure meet at locations around the state for drill. The program is called RSP.
 
The Recruitment Sustainment Program (RSP) is designed to familiarize future Soldiers with standard military practices and behaviors expected of them at basic training. Before Carter's return, the first Drill Sergeant trainees would interact with was day one of basic training.
 
Carter's presence at RSP allows for an interaction that has not occurred in Kentucky history. This encounter is a positive step towards better preparing our service members toward a rewarding and successful basic training mission.