NCOA honors Aviation Branch CSMs
May 19, 2011
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- An idea to honor the legacy of the Aviation Branch's command sergeants major got off to a rough start about 10 months ago, but it was brought full circle during an emotional ceremony May 12 at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum.
The original idea didn't sound overly difficult - to create a wall display of photos and biographies of each of the Aviation Branch's previous 11 command sergeants major in a hallway of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officer Academy - but it soon became apparent it might not be as easy as it initially sounded, said school commandant and originator of the idea, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard A. Mitchell.
"As I started looking for the historical data within our Branch, I found that no one had ever captured that information," he said. "So, I thought it would be a great project for the young students going through the academy to go out, do the research, and find the data and bios on our former branch CSMs."
Mitchell's intent was to have each class coming through the NCOA to put together a photo and biography plaque on each of the previous 11 command sergeants major of the Branch since it was created in 1983.
But a major pothole greeted NCOA students and cadre on what became an almost year-long bumpy road they were embarking on, he said.
"We started with the first, Command Sgt. Maj. David L. Spears, who was the command sergeant major from the Branch's creation in 1983 to 1984," Mitchell said, adding that Spears passed away in 2003. "I kind of got a little frustrated because the students came back and said they couldn't find any information on him - they couldn't find any of his Family members, and nothing on him in any of the libraries or online.
"That's when I started to think this was going to be a hard task to get done," Mitchell added.
Deciding to skip over Spears for a bit, Mitchell and the NCOA cadre began researching Spears, but met with the same lack of success as had their students.
The various classes continued researching the other sergeants major, with varying degrees of difficulty, and compiled the plaques one by one until only Spears remained. But a breakthrough came when students spoke with the Branch's fourth CSM, retired Command Sgt. Maj. John Traylor.
"He works at Cairns (Army Air Field) and he was friends with Spears," Mitchell said. "He was still in contact with Spears' wife, Doris, who lived in Daleville."
Once students contacted Mrs. Spears, it was apparent the hardest part of the legacy wall quest was going to come together after all, Mitchell said.
"She had everything we needed," he said. "She brought us in everything she had on him, which was a book with all his documents from when he came into the Army. The students and the cadre sat down and started going over every piece of paper to write his bio."
Once the plaque on Spears was complete, USAACE NCOA 15T Senior Leadership Course Class 11-03 members took it upon themselves to take things one step further and complete the circle by inviting Doris out for a small ceremony where they presented her with a copy of the plaque that would be hung in the school's hallway.
Married to the sergeant major for 35 years, Doris said she was initially surprised to be contacted by the students. "I just thought, 'Man, it's been a long time.'
"It's pretty," Doris said of the plaque, with tears in her eyes. "He loved his job, he loved Aviation. He'd just be thrilled with this. It's like he did his service all over again. I appreciate the students remembering him, and I want to tell them to keep on remembering people."
With the final piece of the puzzle completed, the NCOA now has its Army Aviation Branch Command Sergeants Major Legacy Wall in place, and it's become an attraction at the school, Mitchell said.
"Classes routinely come through hallway," he said. "I see students stopping by and reading the plaques. The students were very excited - we just got the actual boards up while this class was in session and the students helped me slide them in."
The commandant said it was important for the students to be the major force behind making the legacy wall happen.
"I wanted them to be part of it, so they did the work - found the individuals, and called them or wrote them and interviewed them on the phone as a class and asked them questions," he said. "The cadre and I could've done it, but I wanted them to do it because it is their Branch.
"Now we forever have this so that so every student that comes through the course will be able to read about the careers of these great men and see what they did for our Army and our Branch," Mitchell continued. "They can now say, 'Hey I was part of that - I did that,' and have some ownership of it."
And one of those reading about the careers of the former command sergeants major today or in the near future, might one day find a photo and biography of him or herself on that board to bring the circle around again.