In life, if you’re lucky, you meet a person that makes an impact. Someone that changes who you are and how you look at the world; someone who makes you better.
I arrived at Ft McClellan, AL, for Basic Training at the end of February 1993…. the day after I turned 18. Basic training was tough, but when we reached weapons qualification it became impossible for me. Because of a clerical error, I did not receive my Army issue glasses and I was not allowed to qualify with my weapon while wearing my contacts. The Army restarted me in a new company and I was faced with completing basic training all.over.again.
I wanted to quit. I asked my parents if I could come home, but my Mom said I couldn’t live with her if I quit…. so, I restarted. And that’s when I met one of those people.
His name is Martin Tallent and he was my drill sergeant. I had an instant connection with him, even though he was the most terrifying man I’d ever met.
DS Tallent made me want to succeed, he made me want to work hard and make him proud. He wouldn’t LET me quit and for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to.
He spent countless hours talking me through the things that terrified me. I struggled with anxiety during long distance runs, he figured that out and would let me know our route before the run. It worked and for the first time I was not only completing runs but improving.
He stuck by my side during our 12 mile rucksack march, which I was convinced I couldn’t do. That morning we heard he was injured and might not march, but he showed up and he marched. With a broken foot. The man marched 12 miles and THEN went to the doctor. Fucking incredible.
DS Tallent changed my life. He helped me see that I needed direction and discipline. He taught me that you don’t just show up for your life, you give everything you do everything you have. Suddenly, all the things my parents had tried to teach me made sense. I wanted to make them proud of me too.
The day I left Ft. McClellan was a sad day. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to maintain all the changes without DS Tallent around scaring the crap out of me, but I wanted to try. I also wanted to thank him for all he had done for me. I remember buying him a card and being so scared to give it to him. I cried so hard saying good bye to him.
Fast forward 21 years. DS Tallent and I had been Facebook friends for a few years. One day I got a message from him with an image attached, it was the card from so long ago.
The card reads: DS Tallent, Well, life would be a lot different if I hadn’t come to Charlie Co, but I am so glad I did. I have so much respect and admiration for you. I wish you only knew how much it meant to me to have your support through BRM and 9mm. I will try hard to do everything I can to make your proud with the rest of my military career, but I want you to know everything I accomplish comes back to the values and self respect you taught me. Thank you for taking the time.”
His message said: “I wanted to share this with you, I found it while downsizing my stuff. Thanks, the words resonate today just like they did 20 years ago.”
I answered: “I can’t believe you still have that after all these years!
I meant all of those things then and now. I didn’t have self discipline or know the value of hard work until I met you. I loved and admired my dad, but sometimes if you’re really fucking stubborn, you refuse to learn the things your parents are trying to teach you. You took the foundation my Dad built and turned me into a better person. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
He said, “I think this is the only “relic” left from those days! I spent my whole career being the selfless soldier, giving the credit to my soldiers, my superiors, etc. Your note, and others like them, are what I look back on to validate my service. I posted something on my twitter that really described my time as a DS like this; “Proud that I am reliable…because I’ll never be popular.” I am proud of you, and love that I am admired by you…its fuel for my soul.”
I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means to me that this man is still proud of me. It’s astonishes me that it’s fuel for his soul, because that’s exactly what it is for me too.
DS Tallent was one of those people in my life. He was a person that believed in who I could be and made me see it.
He changed the direction of my life and I know I’m not the only person he’s done that for. For some people it’s a teacher or a pastor….. for me it was a 6’4″ loud, demanding, relentless, terrifying drill sergeant who turned out to be a giant teddy bear.