June 26, 2015 --
It’s a warm summer evening at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. The bleachers are full of guests from around the world, admiring the Marines marching on the parade deck. Behind the action on center walk, observing every movement of the staff and marching platoons is the drill master, Gunnery Sgt. Cedric Smith.
Smith joined the Marine Corps in 1996 and graduated from Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, Paris Island, S.C. Following recruit training he became a motor transport operator. As his career progressed, Smith took part in key roles of the development of Marines at all levels varying from recruiting and a tour on the drill field to instructing at the Staff Noncommissioned Officers’ Academy.
“After some years of operating I wanted to go to the academy… specifically to instruct staff sergeants,” said Smith. “I strongly believe that that rank in the Corps is such a pivotal rank, and I wanted to share my knowledge with them.”
The experiences he received instructing have been rewarding.
In March 2014 his mentors recommended that he submit a package for the drill master position at the “Oldest Post of the Corps”.
"I was skeptical about it [submitting for the position], but my mentors told me to apply," said Smith. “I submitted the package and I was requested for a one week interview held by some of the key leaders here at the Barracks.”
In April of 2014, he got the position.
Smith believes that becoming the drill master is a humbling experience.
“[The drill master] is not the spotlight of the show,” said Smith. I have to care the most about the mission and meet the commanding officer’s intent.
Attention to the detail of ceremonial drill is crucial to mission accomplishment. At the Barracks, Marines follow P5060, a ceremonial drill manual which is different from drill that is taught and is executed elsewhere in the Marine Corps.
While the public sees a flawless performance, many hours are devoted behind the scenes in preparation for the show.
During the mornings of the parade, battalion drill is held for approximately two hours.
A few hours prior to a parade, key billet holders will begin warming up behind the Barracks with the battalion marchers. Smith is always present, observing and ensuring that the Marines are still within the drill mindset. Soon after the warm-up, he takes his place on center-walk where he can observe and take notes on the parade without obstructing the guests’ view.
Trending mistakes are noted and are retained for upcoming drill periods for corrections.
For Smith, it is always about being a professional and learning from your mistakes.
The drill master is responsible for training the colors teams, firing party, mascot handlers, key personnel for the ceremonial events, and Dover teams.
Smith was also directly responsible for training the Marines who took part in the 2014 Commandant’s Passage of Command as well as the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps’ Relief and Appointment ceremonies.
“[The ceremonies] to me was an Oscar awarding moment,” said Smith. “Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment. After both events being performed in the best and worst climates, our Marines felt accomplished and I believe that to be fact. “
During the Marine Corps Birthday season when parades are no longer held, Smith is in charge of selecting and training two cake teams consisting of nine Marines each to provide support for the cake cutting ceremonies throughout the National Capital Region. His Marines are responsible for showcasing the Barracks’ drill precision at the Senate, Pentagon, Director of National Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency and the Commandant’s Ball. During the 2014 parade season, his Marines provided support for 26 ceremonies in 21 days.
Marines who wish to partake in key billets must undergo a selection process, generally a sequence of drill movements. Most billets however, contain additional requirements such as height to ensure uniformity.
“[During the selection process] you have one shot to impress, to perform, and to put on that show,” said Smith. “From there the selection happens and your training begins.”
After the training, the drill master continues the development of the Marines.
“There’s no free time… my free time is someone’s free time who wants additional help,” said Smith. “I have to make myself available to anyone in all those billets at any given time.”
Regardless of background and drill experience, Smith highly recommends that Marines attempt to the selection process.
“We want everyone in the Barracks to be involved with the mission,” said Smith. “It gives you an opportunity to be part of a winning team, and it feels really good.”
Smith will be in the promotion zone for this year’s upcoming selection board. If selected to first sergeant, his mission would shift immediately to train the next drill master of the Barracks to meet the ceremonial requirements in the National Capital Region. Regardless of Smith’s next promotion or duty station, his motivation is high and he remains on the ready to teach, train, and lead Marines for whatever assignment the Corps has next for him.