Fort Jackson drill sergeant wins coveted Drill Sergeant of the Year for U.S. Army

Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 8:06 PM EDT
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FORT JACKSON, S.C. (WIS) - A Fort Jackson soldier was crowned with the coveted title of Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSOY) for the Army-wide competition held at the largest combat training installation.

The 2023 DSOY is 30-year-old Staff Sgt. Ashley Buhl, originally from Crestview, Fla., and seven and a half years into her Army career.

The Army has recognized its top drill sergeants since 1969 after a week-long competition that’s both mentally and physically challenging, officials said. The soldiers are not only tested on tactical and technical skills, but their ability to coach, teach and mentor.

193rd Infantry Brigade Commander Col. Scott White is part of Buhl’s command team. He told WIS News 10 the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness, called H2F for short, was an integral part of her training.

According to the U.S. Army’s website, H2F “optimizes physical and non-physical performance, minimizes injuries, and revolutionizes post-injury rehabilitation.”

“I’ve been working closely with the ... Soldier Performance Readiness Center here on Fort Jackson, where I’m working with a dietician, [and an] athletic trainer,” Buhl told WIS News 10 before the competition. “I’m working with people to help me with my cognitive skills [and] my spiritual skills. They’ve set me up a whole program to prepare for the competition with all of my physical attributes.”

Buhl’s day started around 4 a.m. Her training included running and going to the gym three times a week along with rucking twice a week. Rucking is a walk or hike carrying a weighted backpack.

Buhl said her plan especially made a difference with her diet.

“Being on the trail, I usually do not eat that well,” Buhl said. “I eat out a lot or we just eat leftovers from ... the training holidays or I’m eating MREs in the field.”

MRE stands for Meals Ready to Eat, which is a pre-packaged, shelf-stable meal that’s easily transportable on a soldier’s person and can be prepared and eaten without a kitchen or dining facility.

Buhl’s sports dietician set her up with easy meals that she can make when she gets home at 8 p.m., she said. She would also bring a lunchbox when she was out in the field.

Another component her plan focused on was her sleep. Buhl tracked her sleep through a band she wore on her wrist.

“It helps me realize how much sleep I’m getting or where I need to improve my sleep cycle in general,” Buhl explained.

Even though there were a lot of elements to juggle for her competition prep around her daily work load, for Buhl that wasn’t the hardest part.

“Honestly, the hardest part of preparing for this competition is just knowing how many people are on my side and wanting to win for them, not just for myself,” Buhl confessed. “It’s more of ... the pressure, I would say, of all of them wanting me to win and I just don’t want to let them down.”

Her command team is nothing short of proud about Buhl’s win. White released a statement to WIS News 10 that said:

“We are incredibly proud of Drill Sergeant Ashley Buhl, a remarkable woman, Soldier, and NCO with a bright future. She tackles everyday as a drill sergeant with passion, 100% commitment, and unquenchable desire for excellence. Between her commitment and raw capability, and the investment over the past 2 months by the brigade’s Holistic Health and Fitness professionals, the other competitors had no chance. Ashley is an absolute winner in all that she does, and with the addition of H2F she is unstoppable!”

Buhl’s advice to others considering the Drill Sergeant of the Year competition: don’t focus your attention in one area.

“Even though I came in last in all the ruck marches, when I did compete for Fort Jackson, I still ended up winning the Drill Sergeant of the Year title due to my other areas of performance that I excelled in,” Buhl said. “It’s not all about being the fastest at one thing, it’s about being good at everything.”

DSOY winners are able to advocate for drill sergeants by being assigned to the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Va. the following year, according to Army officials.

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