By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsAugust 29, 2019
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 29, 2019) -- History was made earlier this year when the Fort Drum Noncommissioned Officer Academy relocated to its new, state-of-the-art facility and transitioned away from its origins within the campus of World War II-era buildings on South Post.
But in doing so, it became evident to NCOA staff and cadre that some of their institutional knowledge was lacking. For instance, no one knew who served as the first commandant, or the date when the first class began leadership training.
Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Squirlock, the NCOA chief of operations, said that there were several reasons why he took on the task of writing a short history of the Fort Drum NCOA. For one, he earned a bachelor's degree in history, so he seemed well-suited to the job.
"My primary duties keep me busy, so I didn't have a lot of time to spend on this," he said. "But I like investigating and I like researching, and I was able to get a good foundation on our history in a short amount of time."
Squirlock said that it was common knowledge that retired Command Sgt. Maj. Joe McLaughlin served as the second commandant of the NCOA since he is still active in the Fort Drum community. McLaughlin attends several post functions every year, participates annually in the NCOA holiday toy drive and served as guest speaker at the new NCOA ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"But no one knew who was the first commandant," Squirlock said. "If a VIP wants to tour the new facilities here, nothing we have has the history of the NCO Academy. We really didn't have any talking points for people."
Squirlock contacted Sepp Scanlin, director of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum Museum, and he gained access to the historical archives there. He read through issues of the Fort Drum Sentinel and found the information he was looking for in the post newspaper. Squirlock said he used the camera on his tablet to photograph items of interest, since none of it is available in digital format or online.
"It's only a small bit of history, but it's a start," he said. "The idea is to get 750 to 1,000 words that we can write up for our NCOA Faculty and Staff Handbook that gives a basic overview of the NCO Academy history."
He learned that the planning for an NCO Academy at Fort Drum in 1988 coincided -- coincidentally -- with the Army's Year of the NCO. It officially opened on Oct. 3, 1989, with Command Sgt. Maj. Eugene Williams serving as the first commandant. The commandant hand-picked the 19 instructors who would serve as NCOA cadre. The first students in-processed on Oct. 6, 1989, for a Primary Leadership Development Course that lasted 28 days with 96 hours of field training.
Scanlin also provided Squirlock with an old NCOA yearbook to further his research. The operations NCO said that he would like to explore the origins of the Army institution starting from the 1950s to today's modern Fort Drum NCO Academy.
"There's still gaps to fill, and that's where the heavy, heavy research will come in," Squirlock said. "I am fully confident, with more research, that the resources do exist to bring it all together in one smooth gapless timeline."