by Sergeant Major of the Army (Ret) William Wooldridge
with Colonel Wes Martin

Ask any soldier today the name of his, or her, Drill Sergeant and you will quickly receive an answer. Every soldier remembers the first NCO who played a key role in one's professional development. Sergeant Hull was my key NCO. Three years before American entry into World War II, I joined the ranks as a Regular Army soldier. Over sixty years ago platoons were led by Buck Sergeants, a rank considered to be a junior NCO today. There was nothing junior about these soldiers. A generation earlier they had matured under the sting of battle in the trenches, and on the fields, of France. Like Sergeant Hull, they had been seasoned in a war that introduced machine guns, tanks, fighter planes, and poison gas. First hand they knew the horror of war, the reality of poor training, and the cost of battlefield mistakes.

Sergeant Hull knew that combat is an unforgiving process. Mistakes result in casualties and defeats. The dead don't get second chances. Death is permanent. He knew wars were not short term glorious adventures. Because of his own experiences, Sergeant Hull taught all of his soldiers how to survive in a long-term conflict.

There was something else he taught his soldiers - how to be a strong caring leader. Sergeant Hull had an interest in his people. We were his soldiers. Our lives, professional development, and future were his responsibility. He knew and had a great understanding of each one of us. This allowed him to capitalize on our strengths and correct our weaknesses. He oversaw the development of our personal military foundations on which our future service and lives would be built.

Near the end of 1941 our lives, like those of all Americans would take a great turn. As soldiers, we were now destined to enter into battle against the same nation that Sergeant Hull's generation had fought. Sergeant Hull wasn't destined to go to Europe with us. At the beginning of World War II, like all battle-seasoned soldiers, Sergeant Hull was called to serve at training camps for the massive number of citizens being called to active military duty. Losing Sergeant Hull left us with a personal void. But it also left us with multiple feelings of comfort. We knew that in the years he had spent with us we were shown how to fight and gain victory. We also knew that Sergeant Hull, and the old warriors of his generation, would do everything they could in the little time they had to help prepare for combat those soldiers coming up behind us.

Because Sergeant Hull had given so much of himself in the military development of myself and my comrades, he was with us when we charged back into and recaptured Kasserine Pass, stormed ashore onto the beaches of Sicily and Normandy, and fought across France and into Aachen. Years later his lessons and memories were still with me as I fought on Korean hillsides against Chinese wave assaults and slugged through the jungles of Vietnam. The longer I served, the more I came to realize that as a young soldier I had learned more from Sergeant Hull and leaders of his generation than I did anytime, or anywhere, else in my thirty-one years of service.

In time, I came to realize that Sergeant Hull was part of a tradition. A soldier's knowledge is traced back to what has been passed on by those who have gone before. Those of us who truly serve the military profession are participants in a legacy being passed down from generation to generation. No true soldier ever really dies, but lives on in accomplishment, knowledge, and in the spirit of other dedicated soldiers who follow. During his early days, Sergeant Hull had learned from the veterans of the Spanish American War. Through his own experiences, he built on the knowledge he had gained from those who had gone before him. Professional soldiers are far more than students of military knowledge; they are the custodians who should receive, improve, and pass on that knowledge.

However, it was far more than knowledge I gained from Sergeant Hull. I gained a sense of commitment and a recognition of dedication. Sergeant Hull was not motivated by pay and housing. Even by standards of the 1930's, his monthly pay was not great and the accommodations he lived in were rather Spartan. Sergeant Hull was motivated by a call to duty. His life was oriented to serving in the defense of our nation, and ensuring that the soldiers assigned to his care were fully capable of that same service.

The lessons of Sergeant Hull still apply to this day. No service member should have to look beyond immediate seniors to find an example of Duty, Honor, Country. This is especially critical for young soldiers whose first impressions will greatly influence the long term value of their military service. Those who accept a position of leadership have a responsibility to develop people assigned to them. Supervisors must know and understand their subordinates. They must comprehend what future threats their subordinates may be exposed to and prepare them for the worst. Military leaders also have the responsibility to serve in the best interest of their nation and to yield their personal comforts for the sake of the organization.

Sergeant Hull has long since passed on from our ranks. Because of his commitment and dedication, he lives on in the troops he affected. The greatest successes any military leader can achieve is to have made a positive difference in the lives of subordinates and to have made a meaningful contribution to national defense. Sergeant Hull achieved his goals. Many years ago, through hard training and leadership by example, he challenged his soldiers to those same goals. The importance of that challenge has not diminished with time.

©2021 Wes Martin