Darlene Martinez sits with her children Crystal, 10, Kaylee, 3, and Robert, 6, at their family home in Watertown, NY. Martinez is a single mother and now a drill sergeant in the #Army Reserve. Martinez laughs when she recalls how her children view her, “The little one thinks I fight zombies when I’m in my uniform.” During her first deployment her first daughter was 3 months old, and 2 years old when she returned.
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We heard from Darlene Martinez a few weeks ago on NCPR. She’s a single mother of three, a student, and a purple heart recipient. Homefront: Fort Drum producer Meredith Turk went back to visit her and learn more about how she turns the drill sergeant character on and off.
“Hello, privates. My name is Drill Sergeant Martinez. You will address me as Drill Sergeant at all times. Never call me Sergeant Martinez or nothing, because I did earn my drill sergeant hat, so you will call me Drill Sergeant,” screamed Martinez in her living room in Watertown, NY.
That’s how she introduces herself when she first meets privates at basic training. Martinez described how her drill sergeant role is really a job, and one that when she puts on her hat, she immediately transforms into someone else. She called it a “character” in a performance. And of course there’s “smoking,” it’s the process of breaking people down with physical exhaustion. Her go-to thing is to make privates hold a plank position for minutes on end.
“Up, stay there for a while maybe there, four, five, six minutes. You know whatever’s necessary. Then you go, down, and then once you’re done with getting them smoked and what not, you call them out to the position of attention,” Martinez demonstrated the extended hold she uses on privates. “But after all that is done, and you see them breaking down, you see it in their face that they’re beat,” she said. “They’re like, ‘we did something wrong we paid for it.’ You kind of see that little picturesque face of a child crying, because they did something wrong and they were punished for it.”
Drill Sergeant Martinez takes this part pretty seriously. She said it’s not pleasure that she gets when she does it. This breaking down might save their life later. They’ll be prepared for getting beyond fear when their lives are in danger. Martinez described them as children when they first enlist. “They’re so young,” she said, and she sees her job as pushing them out of that child-like phase in their life.
Martinez went through this herself once. When she was in basic training, she was the youngest in her entire unit, and she got smoked, too. “. . .when I was in the basic training environment as a 17-year-old. I came in there, just being this weak-minded individual. I had lost my mom so I was really broken,” Martinez recalls. “Then I see this short little female drill sergeant, meanest person ever, and that’s the first thing I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she is scary.’ So, she looks at me, she sees me with two suitcases, a duffle bag, and she starts laughing. And I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, what did I do?’”
Although Martinez exudes confidence as a drill sergeant, she still has moments of questioning if she went too far. That’s when, she said, she remembers that they’re human and she’s human. Martinez said it’s difficult when you’re supposed to be strong for everyone so they can learn, and one person needs to see your softer side. Drill sergeants have an open-door policy where the hat can come off if people need to talk in private—the switches turn on and off depending on what’s needed.