By Michael StrasserApril 26, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 26, 2019) -- When retired Command Sgt. Maj. Joe McLaughlin served as the second commandant at the Fort Drum Noncommissioned Officer Academy, it was his hope that the worn-down, World War II buildings that were being used to train new generations of NCOs would someday be replaced with better facilities.
"I was concerned that this construction would not occur for some reason or another, and this school would close and we would send our Soldiers somewhere else to be trained - by non-10th Mountain Division-seasoned NCOs," he said.
Twenty-three years later, McLaughlin finally got to see a new Fort Drum NCOA on April 25 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house.
The two-floor, 40,000-square-foot building includes eight classrooms, each of which can seat 20 students; an 8,000-square-foot indoor training facility; an auditorium that seats up to 206 occupants; a learning and resource center; barracks; and an outdoor track.
The design of the NCOA complex was the undertaking of the New York District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The three main components of the design - classroom/training, administration and barracks - were combined into a single facility.
It was the first NCOA to be built under new standard facility design established by the Army's Institute for NCO Professional Development and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
"If you've been around Fort Drum as long as I have, there are many instances where this installation leads the way," McLaughlin said. "The completion of the construction of this new facility is concrete evidence of the Army and our leadership showing its support for the future of the noncommissioned officers' professional system and the important role it plays today."
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey A. Loehr, the 13th NCOA commandant, said that NCO development has evolved and that the new academy will ensure that the staff and cadre will continue to pursue more opportunities to train leaders, manage talent and be stewards of the Army Profession.
"We will continue to build an NCO Corps that is the foundation of unit readiness, responsible for maintaining standards and discipline while conducting daily missions and making intent-driven decisions," he said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Roark, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum senior enlisted adviser, said that the opening of the new academy demonstrates a commitment to strengthening the division's NCO Corps.
He said that, although the building is absent of students today, future battalion, brigade, division, corps and higher sergeants major will soon occupy seats in classrooms and train throughout academy grounds when classes resume next week.
"NCOs who will distinguish themselves in combat and earn some of the nation's highest awards for valor will walk through these hallways," Roark said.
Sgt. 1st Class Arsenio Petel was one of the senior instructors showing off the new facility to visitors. At the indoor training facility, he said that tables are set up for inprocessing the next class of Basic Leader Course students.
"We'll have 120 students come in Monday and Day Zero starts in here," he said. "They'll turn in their packets and we'll have everything ready to measure height and weight."
The class will conduct the pushup and situp portion of the Army Physical Fitness Test inside and then complete the two-miler on the new outdoor track.
"At our old location, we would have cones that mark a two-mile distance on closed roads," Petel said. "When you run on the road, even when it's a closed road, you know there's going to be some cars that will drive on it. So we definitely have better space to train now, and it's much safer for our Soldiers."
Petel said that at no point in his career has he ever trained or instructed in a new facility before, so he is looking forward to this opportunity.
"I love this new academy, and I appreciate it because we have a lot to work with now," he said. "All the instructors are excited for this."
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Boschette, who served as NCOA commandant in 2008-09, participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Boschette recalled reviewing plans for a new academy back then, but he wasn't sure he would ever see it come to fruition.
"Every building and every classroom we were in was World War II-era - very close quarters - but walking in here today, it's phenomenal," he said. "A world of difference, and it's going to be great for Soldiers."