Throughout its 35-year history the U. S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas, has helped mold, educate and inspire senior noncommissioned officers from around the world to take on the gauntlet of showcasing the importance of NCOs and the Noncommissioned Officer Education System as an integral part of the military. Specifically that NCOs are the backbone of the profession of arms.On May 8, the staff, faculty, students of Sergeants Major Course Class 58 and special guests of the Academy took time to showcase and honor two former students who took that gauntlet a step further by formally inducting them into the USASMA Hall of Honor."I am honored to join you today in recognizing two very special men whose vision, ingenuity and determination have increased the effectiveness of countless NCOs, and have guided the NCO Corps of the U.S. Army and many European nations into the 21st century and beyond," said Col. Donald Gentry, commandant of USASMA, during opening remarks of the third annual induction ceremony. "[We honor] Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) John D. Sparks and Czech Army Command Sgt. Maj. Ludek Kolesa, who join an elite group of leaders who are quite literally the Who's Who of Army enlisted professional development."Gentry lauded Sparks and Kolesa, saying they joined the ranks of the architects of the establishment and growth of NCOES and the Academy; architects like General Bruce Clark who established the first NCO Academy in Germany in 1949; the first and fifth Sergeants Major of the Army, William O. Wooldridge and William G. Bainbridge respectively; and Gen. Ralph Haines, the man responsible for the establishment of USASMA."These men are but a few of the 22 architects we have proudly lauded for bringing our forces to where they are today," he said. "And today, it is my privilege to introduce two more that have learned the skills of a sergeant major in this very academy and have taken that knowledge along with their own vision, personal courage and sheer determination to move Soldier education and NCO professionalism down a new path."A path, Gentry explained to the crowd of more than 600, which resulted in Sparks and Kolesa being chosen as the newest members of the Hall of Honor."Sergeant Major Sparks has had a remarkable career, but it is the work he has done on behalf of Soldier and NCO education that is so distinguished," he said. "[He] has been what can only be described as the accelerant of the transformation of NCOES. John's vision for his architectural design, much of which is already being realized, has revolutionized NCOES and set us up to embrace the future with boldness and confidence."Looking to Kolesa's accomplishments, Gentry noted that he not only helped further the status of the NCO Corps in his own country's military, but of the militaries of many European nations."Sergeant Major Kolesa was the first-ever Command Sergeant Major of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic. Since then, he has been instrumental in unifying the efforts of the Supreme Allied Command Europe and Supreme Allied Command Transformation by establishing a charter that will provide one platform for which all European senior enlisted leaders will operate," Gentry said of the Class 54 graduate. "That charter focuses on leadership, standards, proficiency and training. He has traveled extensively supporting the role of NCOs in countries [who have] cultures where that role has been underplayed and underused. He has been a tireless advocate of the value and importance of NCOs across countries and in doing so has influenced an entire continent in the development of professional armies capable of working together for the common good."Both Sparks and Kolesa were brought up on stage to unveil their wall plaques, replicas of the ones that hang on the hallway adjacent to the East Auditorium of the Academy.
"I am truly humbled to be honored, truly humbled to be here today, humbled to be in your presence and humbled to have been and still be a Soldier at heart," Sparks said in accepting the honor.Kolesa recalled his days as a student of Class 54 and said when he gave his country brief in 2004 he never thought he would be back on stage at USASMA addressing 600-plus people in a language that foreigners find "pretty crazy.""There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is not from Guinea and is not a pig," he said laughingly. "You ship by truck and send cargo by ship."Levity aside, Kolesa thanked his fellow classmates, former faculty advisor others for supporting and motivating him during his stay at the Academy. He also paid special tribute to Wooldridge, whom he said has been an inspiration to him and his career since they first met while he was attending Class 54.Kolesa also noted that May 8 is also a special day in the history of the Czech Republic as it is the day they were liberated from Nazi occupation. He gave a special thank you to Maj. Gen. John Furlow, Assistant Adjutant General, Texas National Guard, whose father was a member of the 97th Infantry Division and who took part in that liberation 63 years ago."He fought for my country and my nation to be free again and for that I thank you sir," Kolesa said. "Humbly accepting this great honor is one of the greatest moments in my military career and my life."The USASMA annually inducts members into the Hall of Honor based on nominations received from around the Army and allied nations whose members have attended the Sergeants Major Course. The nominations are then reviewed by Academy staff with the final selection being done by the commandant. Since instruction began at the Academy in 1973, more than 30,000 students have graduated the Sergeants Major Course. The Academy hosted its first international student in 1975. Since then 433 international students have graduated from the course with many going on to serve as sergeants majors of their respective armies, sergeants major of their armed forces, senior enlisted advisors to defense ministers, or chiefs of defense."These are two individuals who have made contributions not just to their unit, not just their country, but to the world; and it was a huge honor to be able to recognize these architects of NCOES," Gentry said."This is extremely important to the Army and USASMA because it recognizes the impact NCOES and the person that is involved with NCOES has on our Army and armies of other nations," said Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, USASMA command sergeant major. "John Sparks has probably done more for our Army in the last two years than we have talked about in 20. Sergeant major Kolesa has done more for his country and NATO in the last year and half than has been done in the past. Their extreme impacts based on the foundations of what they receive at Academy have, in turn, impacted the Army and NATO, and that's important to recognize."