Lessons from the drill sergeant

Published 8:58 pm Thursday, July 9, 2015

By Tonya S. Swindell

Twice a week, I facilitate an occupational therapy group to help veterans build “skills for the job of living.”

I was told all soldiers, marines, airmen, coasties and sailors spend time marching in squadrons, so I encourage my participants to think about skills they learned while placing one foot in front of the other within their respective ranks.


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Sometimes to bolster my credibility I talk about my experience as a member of a marching drill team when I was a child. Although I remained civilian and never served in the military once I became an adult, I remember skills I learned under the direction of our beloved drill sergeant, who was retired from the U.S. Marines.

The most memorable command he gave us was, “Attention!” According to Wikipedia, “The position of attention is one of readiness for a word or command.” When our team heard the call to attention we knew exactly what to do: Stand still with our eyes facing forward, shoulders relaxed, elbows, fingers and knees loosely bent with our heels positioned at a 45 degree angle.

Now in a spiritual sense, when I hear the word “attention” I imagine God saying, “Be still and know that I’m God.” It also makes me think of a song from the “Sister Act 2” soundtrack, which says, “If you wanna be somebody — if you wanna go somewhere — you better wake up and pay attention!”

“About face!” was another command we received. When I heard those words, I immediately raised my right foot and positioned the ball of it on the ground so I could pivot, make a 180-degree turn, and land with my feet facing the opposite direction.

In life, sometimes we all need to make an “about face” and head in a different direction.

Next I heard the command: “Forward march!” because it was time to “move out” while maintaining the forward position.

One of my favorite cadences went like this:

[Drill sergeant]: “You had a good home but you left.”

[Team]: “You’re right.”

[Drill sergeant]: “You had a good home but you left.”

[Team]: “You’re right.”

[Drill sergeant]: “Sound off.”

[Team]: “One, two.”

[Drill Sergeant]: “Sound off.”

[Team]: “Three, four.”

[Drill Sergeant]: “Break it on down.”

[Team]: “One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four!”

As our team counted in a sing-songy tone from one to four, our hips rocked slowly from left to right in sync with our slightly bending knees that took our bodies as close to the ground as possible before we returned to a standing position.

In real life, I left the home Jesus built within my heart to pursue my own interests, but God allowed me to return filled with godly sorrow and repentance. After that, it was time for me to put one foot in front of the other, forget what I left behind, and reach forward to what was ahead of me.

Forward march! Left. Left. Left, right, left….

Tonya Swindell writes a blog for www.inspirenewlife.org and a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School (KBES.com). She can be reached at 1brightot@gmail.com.