Cleveland, Ohio (11 October 2018) - On a warm, late summer evening in downtown Cleveland, underneath the glow of the Key Tower and blocks away from Progressive Field, the Cleveland Recruiting Battalion celebrated the career and retirement of Command Sgt. Maj. David J. Ahola.As his fellow Soldiers gave speeches and awards, between the jokes and tears, it became apparent that Ahola made a lasting impact on the United States Army and everyone who worked with him over the last three decades.Ahola, a native of Milwaukee, WI, enlisted in the United States Army in 1989 as an infantryman. Did he realize he was making a lifelong career decision 30 years ago?"Absolutely not," he said.Before joining the Army, he was a high school athlete and had an interest in sports, but he wasn't sure what he wanted as a career."I found out, like most young people, that academically and my level of maturity weren't where they needed to be in order to be a successful college student. It was a humbling experience," he said. "I saw the Army as a positive choice, to learn valuable life skills and essentially keep me out of trouble, while earning money for college. My decision to enlist for just two years was a sign that I had never looked at the Army as a career, but instead a bridge to future success."Halfway through his first enlistment as an infantryman, Ahola said his squad leader had a permanent change of station, and there was no one to fill that leadership void. Young Pfc. Ahola was given some of those responsibilities, and he discovered he really enjoyed his role as a leader."Over the years, the leadership aspect of it -- leading people, developing people, being a part of a team - has been one of the things that has kept me around for all these years," he said.Ten years into his career, he was stationed at the 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, NC, when he was selected to be a detailed recruiter. At first, he wasn't sure he wanted to become a recruiter."I wasn't very excited about the opportunity," Ahola said. "In fact, I tried to get my way out of recruiting."He started recruiting in West Palm Beach, FL, and quickly learned that he loved influencing young people and being in the community. He enjoyed sharing the Army's story -- and his own Army story."When I was in recruiting, young men and women would look at me, and in many ways they wanted to emulate me," he said. "They wanted to be me. It took me back to when I was in basic training as I looked at my drill sergeant, I wanted to be just like him. It was giving back. I enjoyed it."
The former high school athlete discovered he still enjoyed the spirit of competition in recruiting. In 1998, during his first year as a recruiter, Ahola attended an awards ceremony and watched his fellow recruiters get recognized for their hard work."I told myself, next year, I will be up there," he said.Sure enough, in 1999, he was named NCO of the Year for the Miami Recruiting Battalion.
"It was something I took a lot of pride in," Ahola said. "I wanted to be good. I wanted to be great. I always worked extremely hard. I put in the extra time. I came in on the weekends. I made calls late at night. I wanted to be the best recruiter that there was."His early success in recruiting and the opportunity to grow as a leader steered his decision to reclassify as a 79R."It was a decision and a move that I made that, I think, allowed me to extend my career to be a 30-year Soldier," he said.Recruiting also allowed him to continue his education and have time with his family.After 20 years of service, CSM Ahola said he "strongly considered" leaving the Army, but decided he wanted to be considered for sergeant major. He was eventually selected to the United States Sergeants Major Academy.After 20 years of service, CSM Ahola said he "strongly considered" leaving the Army, but decided he wanted to be considered for sergeant major. He was eventually selected to the United States Sergeants Major Academy.Over the last 30 years, he noted that some of the biggest challenges in recruiting come from the fact that it's a constantly changing environment."There are always different focus areas and different priorities," Ahola explained. "The mission is going up or coming down, our recruiting doctrine is always changing. This is why the development of leaders and making sure our leaders are flexible and agile and able to adapt in this environment is so critical."Throughout his career, he said one of his best assignments was when he was selected to recruit for the 1st Special Forces Operation Detachment-Delta, where he was able to deploy to Operation Iraqi Freedom as a 79R."To be able to work with the most premiere direct action unit in the world was incredible," he said. "The incredible men and women that worked in that organization, bar none, were the best in the Army."Ahola's Army career also allowed him to grow as a person."I never took education quite as seriously as I should, and I made it a point to start getting after my degrees and lead by example because I saw the importance of it, and I didn't want to tell my Soldiers it was important but yet not take the time to get after it myself," he said.He completed his Bachelor's Degree in Multi-Disciplinary Studies from Liberty University and a Master's in Leadership Studies from The University of Texas at El Paso."It's something I'm extremely proud of. It served as an example not only for my Soldiers, but my family," he said."So I'm very thankful to the United States Army Recruiting Command for everything that they've given me. I just hope that I was able to give them something throughout the years," he continued.
Now with retirement on the horizon, he said he's looking forward to spending time with his four sons and two grandchildren. After all these years, though, he said he's in a similar position to where he was before he joined the Army."This has been my profession for 30 years," he said. "This is all I know. I am a Soldier in the Army, and as I transition and begin my search for a job, nothing's jumping off the page for me just yet.He envisions his next position to be something where he can help train, develop and lead people. He would also like to work with veterans so he can give back to his fellow military brothers and sisters.
"I look forward to remaining a mentor to many of the Soldiers that I worked with," Ahola said. "This is not the end of my Army career, just a transition into another phase of my life. I had so much pride in serving my country, and I definitely loved serving my country. The Army will always be in my life."