The Perishable Skill of Drill and Ceremony

Formal Drill and Ceremony (DNC) was never a thing that Delta operators were very good at — or even ANY good at all at. In fact, I could go so far as to declare in all confidence that Delta operators are indeed ceremoniously challenged. It’s not a bragging right; it’s a simple matter of being horrendously out of practice. It is, as I came to learn, a rather perishable skill.

In my ten years with Delta never a single time did I stand in a formal formation. Physical training was never conducted as a group unless it was a specific testing event, and even then, no DNC applied. Officers and NCOs didn’t salute; they shook hands, but only if there was respect between them, which was always the case.

The Unanticipated Challenge

During my time in the Unit, I was gifted with an opportunity to attend a much-vaunted senior leader’s course called Operations and Intelligence (O&I). I was in this training course that pipe-hitters learned advanced Intelligence Preparation of Battlespace (IPB) and refined their understanding of the covenants of Special Forces guerrilla operations, that is, Low-Intensity Conflict/Unconventional Warfare (LIC/UW).

(A basic product of skill acquired from the O&I Course)

The school saw mostly Sergeants First Class (E-7) seeking promotion to Master Sergeant (E-8). I was already a MSG when I came to O&I, a thing that didn’t sit well with many of my classmates who deemed that I was taking a space needlessly from a man trying to get promoted. I agreed with that, but my unit sent me to the school — I did not ask to go. What’s more, I had been running damned hard for seven years straight with no break.

A Lesson in Humility and Respect

While DNC is a priority for the regular Army, I had let my skills atrophy so much that I didn’t even have a proper uniform ready to go, and, as fate is fickle, I was caught short by my own lack of situational awareness. Being a Master Sergeant, I was incidentally the senior man in the class, therefore the Class Leader.

The night before the first day of class, I was strangely restless. Understand it I did not, and I raised myself from bed to imbibe in cool water. The first window I passed, I was startled by the light of the full moon that spilled into the room… the blue light of the blue moon!

“I do not trust this color, this odd color… this color I strangely mistrust!”

Perhaps it was a dream, but it meant something, an admonishment of sorts that I loathed I could not unravel, rendering me nervous anticipation of the first day of class. The blue moon. Something only happens “once in a blue moon,” but what did it portend for me?

Feign would I have fathomed that Delta should be required to perform Drill and Ceremony… once… once in a blue moon!

It all came clear to me in the form of a giant facepalm that morning; “I wondered by the ball that was getting bigger… and then it hit me!” The fine Green Berets of my class stood strack in their morning formation. I, their fearless Class Leader, stood out in front, all of us at the semi-relaxed position of parade rest.

Parade pomp, drill, and ceremony; George Bush meets Norman Schwarzkopf

The senior Cadre, MSG Bill Sams, was standing ready to receive my morning report of personnel accountability. I turned and called the class to attention to which they snapped. I turned to MSG Sams and reported all men present and ready to train. With a (suspicious) flash of blue in his eyes, Sams instructed:

“Master Sergeant Hand… prepare your formation for In-Ranks Inspection.”

“SLAP!!” (loud report of facepalming).

In-Ranks Inspection… yeah, what exactly was that again? I knew it had one helluva lot of steps to it. I remember you had to get the men to spread out so that the inspector could get in between the ranks and… inspect. If I just had a half-hour to think and try to remember how to do it. If this, if that, if I just weren’t such a monumental ass!

Sams face grew smaller and smaller as I plunged straight down a dark tunnel, spinning and tumbling as I fell. I saluted and turned about to face the men. There was a tactile sense of sympathy from the men who knew I had merely heard of a man, who once saw a man, who smelled the fart of the man that had a clue what to do next. No sense in delaying any longer. I sucked in a breath and:

“Spread out for In-Ranks Inspection,” I blurted with all the directional authority of a tumbleweed.

The men froze momentarily in place, then all looking this way and that… slowly spread themselves out in the inevitable end-state fashion, standing solidly at attention. Sams was simply flabbergasted as he stepped forward and returned the men to their original formation with the command: “CLOSE RANKS, MARCH!”

MSG Sams could see genuine shame and frustration on my face. He told me to have the men fall out and fall into the classroom, saluted and left. I looked at the 60 pairs of blinking eyes to my front and announced: “Men… I have nothing clever to say right now. Let’s all just please file into the classroom and try to forget any of this ever happened.”

At the end of the day, Sams approached me and handed me a stack of papers. A Xerox-copied chapter from the Drill and Ceremony manual covered In-Ranks Inspection. My face fell again as I relived the shame of the morning. I understood, though, and I thanked him for his discretion.

The official DNC Manual: TC [Training Circular] 3-21.5

That night, I studied that chapter and rehearsed late into the evening. The next morning, I jumped up and immediately began to rehearse again. I mentally mulled it over in my mind as I drove to the academy. It didn’t matter that this task I was so hell-bent on wasn’t for Delta, it was because I was representing Delta that I had to perform it flawlessly, and to demonstrate sincere respect to MSG Sams — the man and his position both.

“MSG Hand, prepared your formation for In-Ranks Inspection,” ordered Sams with one arched brow of curious anticipation. I spun about and delivered the multitude of maneuvering commands to bring the men ready for inspection. I have to say it was flawless, and Sams was pleased that I had obviously not been too damned cool to get my DNC in order.

In my mind, I credit the whole experience to the good grace of being surrounded by professional soldiers who are compassionate and intelligent enough to recognize when to mete out punishment and when to award guidance. I have always carried with me the humility I learned from that experience and the respect and admiration I have for MSG Bill Sams.


By the grace of Almighty God and with honor,
geo sends