Welcome to my drill weekend success guide for Soldiers, officers, and NCOs serving in the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, and Defense Force. I’ve put together a compiled list of everything I know to educate and prepare you for your drill weekends.
What is Drill Weekend?
In this first section, I’d like to provide you with the ins and outs of how drill weekend works and what you can do to make it a successful training event. Let’s get started.
A drill period is defined as four hours, and a weekend would be considered four drill periods. There are two drill periods for each day. ~ Military Benefits
In the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, most units drill once per month. A drill weekend normally consists of eight hours of training on Saturday and eight hours of training on Sunday. Sometimes it can be longer and sometimes it can be less. This is when the Soldiers assemble to conduct the scheduled unit training.
The correct term for drill weekends are Unit Training Assemblies (UTAs). While this is the official name, most individuals refer to it as “drill” and only use the term UTA when they are referring to the orders or status they are on when reporting for duty. ~ bogidope.com
What are the Most Common Types of Drill Weekend?
The most common type is a MUTA 2 x 2. This is where you meet for eight to twelve hours on a Saturday and eight to twelve hours on a Sunday. You arrive at the armory on Saturday morning, go home on Saturday night, and return Sunday morning. Finally, you are dismissed on Sunday afternoon or evening. A MUTA-4, on the other hand, is when you stay at the armory on Saturday night.
The next common type of drill weekend is a MUTA-5. This is when you report to the armory on Friday night, normally around 5 pm. You conduct three to four hours of training that night and are dismissed for the evening. You return for Saturday morning formation, work the entire day Saturday and go home Saturday night. You return to the armory Sunday morning and work all day Sunday. There could be times you are required to stay at the armory each night, but it varies unit by unit, and by mission.
In some rare cases, you might do a MUTA-1, a MUTA-6, or MUTA-8. A MUTA-1 is a half day (4-hours of training). A MUTA-6 is three full days, normally Friday through Sunday. A MUTA-8 is four full days, normally a Thursday through Sunday.
What Do You Do During Drill Weekend?
There are a lot of different training events that could happen during a drill weekend. Some of the most common events include:
- Physical Fitness Training
- PMCS & Unit Maintenance
- Weapons Ranges
- Update Personnel Records
- Mandatory Briefings
- Staff Meetings & Training Meetings
- Site Visits
- Counseling Sessions
- And Much More!
The events are scheduled on the unit’s training schedule. The training schedule gives an hour-by-hour breakdown of what the unit is scheduled to do each training day. You can ask your supervisor for a copy of the unit training schedule so you can see what training is scheduled to take place. You can also review the Yearly Training Calendar to see the major training events scheduled for the year. If you serve in a leadership position, you should keep a copy with you and always know what training is scheduled to take place.
Example Drill Weekend Training Schedule
This is an example Army National Guard or Army Reserve drill weekend training schedule. Please keep in mind that this can vary significantly by unit and by month. Some months you might be in the field for training and other months you might be at the armory for training. Some weekends are geared around major training events and others are administrative based.
0630-0645 First Formation
0730-0800 Equipment Inspection
0800-1000 PMCS Unit Equipment
1000-1100 Mandatory Briefing
1100-1200 Sergeant’s Time
1300-1500: Section Training
1500-1600 Weapons Cleaning
1600-1630 After Action Review
1630-1645 Final Formation
How to Prepare for Drill Weekend
In this section, I’d like to share some helpful ideas about how to prepare for drill weekend. If you serve as an NCO or officer, you must prepare for drill weekend ahead of time. The last thing you want to do is just “show up” for drill weekend without having things in order. You owe it your Soldiers and unit to be prepared. That’s part of being a leader.
Listed below, I’m going to share a few of my favorite ideas to help you prepare for drill weekend. These are things that helped me prepare for drill weekend when I served in the National Guard.
# 1: Review the Training Schedule & Develop Your Game Plan
Acquire a copy of your unit’s training schedule, OPORD, and training calendar and review them two to three weeks before drill weekend. What major training events will take place during drill weekend? Where will you do the training? What do you need to get done ahead of time to make sure everything goes as planned? Make a “to-do” list or checklist and identify what needs to be done and who needs to do it. Prioritize this list and assign who will be responsible for each task. I recommend you do this at least two weeks before drill weekend, and then review your list one final time two to three days prior to drill weekend.
# 2: Talk with Your Supervisor to See What They Want Done Ahead of Time
Give your immediate supervisor a call ahead of time and find out if they have any additional requirements or suspense’s for you to complete before or during drill weekend. Share your game-plan with them to see if you forgot anything. Make sure the two of you are on the same sheet of paper. Sometimes last minute things come up so it’s important for you to do this, so you don’t get an unpleasant surprise during drill weekend.
# 3: Have a Meeting with Your Direct Reports
Once you have your checklist of items and you’ve talked with your supervisor, you should have a quick conference call with your direct reports and team members. Let them know the mission and specific tasks that must be completed during drill weekend. Let them know what tasks they will be responsible for and make sure they have the resources they need to succeed. Answer their questions and make sure they are well prepared.
Ideally, you want to do this three to seven days before drill weekend. Sharing this information ahead of time is very important. Have them back-brief you on their game-plan. You don’t want to wait until first formation of drill weekend to let them know what needs to be done. I suggest you do a call via Skype, conference call, or Facetime AND send them an email so you have a paper trail/evidence of what you told them.
# 4: Visit the Armory to Inspect, Stage, & Prepare Your Equipment
If possible, try to visit the armory a few days before your upcoming training to stage your equipment. Inventory the equipment you will use during drill weekend to make sure everything is available and working. Stage the equipment and organize it so it is easy to find during drill weekend. While you are at the armory, sit down and talk with the AGR staff to see if there are any last minute changes or problems that need to be resolved. This will save you lots of time and frustration during drill weekend.
# 5: Show up to the Armory Early
As a leader, make sure you arrive at the armory ahead of time; about an hour before first formation is wise. You could also go to the armory Friday night and stay overnight. I used to do that and it always gave me a few extra hours to prepare. Finish checking your “to do” list and double check your equipment. Do what you can to make sure everything is in order and organized before your Soldiers arrive for training.
These are just five simple things you can do to prepare for drill weekend. By following the tips outlined above, you should have an effective, fun, and well executed drill weekend. Best of all, your unit/section will be squared away with fewer problems. Whether you follow my steps to success, or develop your own action plan, the bottom line is that you need to establish a battle rhythm and game-plan you can use every month to prepare for drill weekend. Once you do it a couple times you can tweak and improve your action plan, so it is streamlined, effective, and easy to do.
Remember, failing to plan is planning to fail. As a leader, you have the responsibility to plan, resource, and coordinate things for drill weekend. Be proactive, take some initiative, and be the leader that your Soldiers want and deserve.
10 Things You Should Do Every Drill Weekend
In this section, I want to share some simple and practical advice I think every Army Leader serving in the National Guard or Army Reserve should do every drill weekend. These are some basic things you can do to improve morale and readiness in your unit. Doing these things will also show your subordinates that you are a caring and selfless leader.
# 1: Submit Someone for an Award
Find a Soldier under your authority who went above and beyond during the scheduled training and submit them for an award. There is always someone doing something spectacular if you open your eyes and look for it! Pick the person who did the best job during drill weekend and put them in for a formal award, such as unit coin, AAM, or Certificate of Achievement. Make sure you do this every drill weekend.
# 2: Write a Handwritten Note
Order some custom stationary made with your name and rank on it and write AT LEAST one thank you note every drill weekend. Be specific and tell the person what they did that you appreciate so much. Mail it to their home address. This will do wonders for morale! It’s probably the best tip on this list. How many written thank you notes have you received during your military career? If you’re like most folks, not many!
# 3: Praise Someone for Doing Something Right
When you see someone do something right, praise the Soldier. By all means, when Soldiers mess up, fix the issue. HOWEVER, make sure you spend MORE time looking for Soldiers doing something right than you do looking for Soldiers doing something wrong. When you reward good behavior you will get more of it.
# 4: Learn Something New
Do what you can to learn something new every drill weekend. Participate in scheduled training. Talk with peers and Soldiers in different sections. Take on a new task that you haven’t done before or haven’t done in a long time. Learning these new skills will keep you sharp.
# 5: Mentor Someone
Spend 15-minutes with each of your direct reports every drill weekend. Ask them if they are having trouble with anything. Teach them something new. Share information. Ask them a question and listen. Do something to mentor each one of your followers every drill weekend. It’s one of your major responsibilities as a leader. DO NOT neglect this one.
# 6: Provide Constructive Feedback
Whether you have one person or ten people working for you, give them feedback EVERY drill weekend. Let them know what they did right and what they did wrong. Compare their objectives with their actual performance and let them know where they stand with you. Don’t make people wait to get their evaluation report to know where they stand with you.
# 7: Do Something to Improve the Unit
Find at least one way you can improve the organization. Clean out an old room, wash some vehicles, review a SOP, brainstorm ideas for a unit function, or whatever else you can think of. Always leave the unit better than you found it!
# 8: Help a Peer
Find a peer in your unit or another unit and ask them if there is anything you can do to help them out. Show them you are a team player and go the extra mile to help them succeed. Realize that your peers are part of the same team as you. They are an ally, not your competition.
# 9: Help Your Boss
Sit down with your boss for five minutes and ask them if there is anything you can take off their plate. This is in addition to whatever your regular responsibilities are during that drill weekend. Ask your boss “What can I do to make your life easier?” Trust me, they will appreciate it.
# 10: Record Your Achievements
At the end of each drill weekend, go somewhere quite for ten to fifteen minutes and write down your achievements for the weekend. What did you do? What did you accomplish? Record these achievements on your Support Form. This will make life easier for you when your evaluation reports are due and you must submit your Support Form.
In summary, these are 10 simple things that every Army Leader should do every drill weekend. The best part about doing these things is that they aren’t all that time consuming AND doing them will make a positive difference in your unit.
How to Have a Productive Drill Weekend
I’d like to share a simple strategy that I used during my six years in the Army National Guard to have a productive drill weekend. Feel free to modify, add, or delete any of these things from my checklist to fit your current needs. But whatever you do, make sure you have a game-plan.
Before Drill Weekend
Do non-essential paperwork/admin stuff before drill weekend – Your goal is to complete the paperwork and behind the scenes stuff on your own time, outside of drill weekend. Coordinate with the AGR Staff and your supervisor ahead of time and get as much paperwork as you can done on your own time. This means you will need to commit some time outside of drill weekend for your job responsibilities.
Establish priorities for drill weekend – Prior to showing up to drill weekend you must review the training schedule, OPORD, and training calendar and set your own priorities. Make a list of everything that needs to get done in your section/unit. Delegate what you can and come up with a specific “to-do” list for each day of drill weekend. Schedule your time in 15-minute blocks throughout the day.
Communicate with key leaders BEFORE drill weekend – If you supervise others, the time to meet with them is BEFORE drill weekend, not during drill weekend. Contact them ahead of time to assign tasks and priorities. Share your priorities and “to do” list with them. This will limit meetings during drill weekend and ensure everyone on your team has a game-plan ahead of time.
During Drill Weekend
Arrive early and get organized – Try to show up to drill at least 60-minutes early and if possible, 90-minutes early. You want to get organized, review your game plan, and get ready for your Soldiers to arrive. You need that extra time to prepare and take care of any last minute issues.
Use the dry erase board method – After you review your game-plan and “to-do” list, put the following things on a dry erase board in your section’s common area. The mission, commander’s intent, and the big three to five priorities/key tasks for the day. That way, when your Soldiers arrive at the armory they can see what the game-plan is for the day and know what needs to get done.
Delegate 80-80% of your tasks to your subordinates – As a leader, you get paid to get things done through other people. Make sure that you delegate as much as possible. You want to empower your subordinates and work smart. You want to make sure that each one of your direct reports has a list of things that need to be done during drill weekend.
Spend more time with studs than duds – Don’t make the mistake of spending most of your time with the “problem Soldiers.” This is a common mistake that lots of military leaders make. Handle the issues, but spend more time with your good Soldiers and super-stars than you do with the problem children.
Focus on the most important things: collective training, individual training, mission accomplishment, and leader development – 90% of what you do during drill weekend should revolve around one of these four things. Monitor how you spend your time and make sure you are spending your time accordingly.
Spend at least 3- minutes of quality time with each direct report – Since we only meet one weekend a month, you must schedule some quality time to sit down and interact with each of your direct reports. This is where you can do your counseling and leader development, answer any of their questions, and improve your professional relationship with them. Block off this time in your day planner and make sure it happens. No excuses.
End the drill weekend on a positive – Make sure that you end each drill weekend on a positive note. Have a meeting with your team and review everything. After your section/unit AAR is finished, do something fun such as play a game of basketball, go out to dinner, socialize for a little bit, or something else. We did the Ricky Chicken Award ceremony in my old unit and that was lots of fun.
After Drill Weekend
Recognize your team members – At the end of drill weekend, before you go home, write a few thank you cards for Soldiers on your team who did a good job. Put a few people in for awards, such as a unit coin, COA, or something else. Make sure your team members feel appreciated, and get recognized for their efforts.
Start working on your game-plan for next month – Once you get home for the weekend, repeat this whole process for the upcoming month.
Putting it All Together
In review, these are my best tips on having a successful drill weekend in the National Guard, Army Reserve, or Defense Force. I’ve found that an ounce of planning is worth a pound of sweat. Being prepared improves morale, training, and esprit-de-corps. If you are a small unit leader, I suggest you follow these tips.
What are your thoughts about drill weekend? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.
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Former Army Major (resigned)
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