It’s not all about the hat for Sergeant First Class Thomas Dunbar, but it is an honor to wear the “brown round.”
The hat, also called a campaign hat, is only worn by drill sergeants in the U.S. Army.
“The hat’s a big deal,” Dunbar said. “If you don’t own it, you can’t touch it.”
Dunbar looks the part of a drill sergeant. Tall and broad shouldered, his deep voice rumbles and while in uniform, he refuses to smile for the camera.
But, he said, drill sergeants aren’t like those in the movies.
“A lot of people will think of ‘Full Metal Jacket’ or ‘Stripes,’” Dunbar said.
In those films, the drill sergeants live with those in training. The service members do (physical training) in their combat uniforms, and there’s yelling – lots and lots of yelling.
“It’s nothing like the movies. I don’t want to sit here and toot your horn,” he said.
Dunbar said it may have been that way in the past, but not today. In the modern army, drill sergeants are more like mentors.
“We’re more of instructors instead of yelling and screaming and making them cry,” Dunbar said. “We do still scream and yell here and there, but it’s not constant or an all-day-make-them-cry kind of thing.”
Dunbar is a member of the U.S. Army Reserves based at New Century in Gardner. He typically serves as a drill sergeant two days a month and two weeks per year. As a civilian, he works as a production supervisor in Lenexa.
Though Dunbar appears to be straight from central casting, he said not all drill sergeants share the stereotypical look and sound. In drill sergeant school, he said one of his classmates looked like he was 14-years old. The drill sergeants based at New Century include a flight attendant, a retail sales person, a chemist and a microbiologist.
“You get all walks of life,” Dunbar said.
But it’s not a job everyone can do. Reserve drill sergeants must have at least four-years of prior service. They have to have higher physical training and other scores. The have to have the rank of E-4 with even time to be eligible for promotion, and of course, they have to pass drill sergeant school.
Dunbar’s class started with more than 80 students, but only 60-some graduated.
The class involved all of the same phases as basic training, such as physical training, basic rifle marksmanship, combat lifesaver course and combatives. However, it wasn’t a refresher course.
“You have to learn how to train others for all of it,” he said.
Dunbar graduated from drill sergeant school in February 2010. Before becoming a drill sergeant and joining A Company, 1st of the 354th, 95th Training Division at New Century, he served as a petroleum and supply specialist. He joined the service more than 11 years ago. He spent almost all of 2005 in theater in Iraq.
“I landed in Kuwait the first week of December 2004 and flew out of Iraq the week before Thanksgiving in 2005,” he recalled.
He’d do it again, if asked, he said.
“If I got called up, it wouldn’t bother me,” he said.
Though is service contract will expire soon, Dunbar said he plans to re-enlist. He likes the structure and discipline in the U.S. Army.
“When you come out of basic training, you have a warm and fuzzy about everything you need to know to start out in the army,” Dunbar said.
People recognize a soldier when they meet Dunbar, he said.
“This is something I always get. People just know I’m in the military. They say it’s the haircut, how I walk and how I talk,” he explained.
He also enjoys the benefits of being a soldier.
“Uncle Sam is my rich benefactor,” he joked.
Using the G.I. Bill, he recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree. That graduation was a bit different than his initiation into the ranks of drill sergeants.
That graduation is all about the hat.
“You walk up on stage, and they hand (the brown round) to you,” he said. “And you put it on.”