FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (TRADOC News Service, May 22, 2008) - A 44-year tradition ended, Friday, as the Drill Sergeant School graduated its last class, cased its colors and permanently shut its doors.

Visitors overflowed the available 600 chairs to line the walls of Nutter Field House to honor the end of a school that had trained and graduated more than 40,000 Drill Sergeants during its lifetime.

Thirteen retired command sergeants major, sergeants major, and first sergeants were in attendance for the occasion, including the first enlisted commandant for Fort Leonard Wood's Noncommissioned Officers' Academy, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Leroy Mello, who helped case the school's colors at the end of the ceremony.

The Fort Leonard Wood Noncommissioned Officer Academy began training Army drill sergeants in April 1964, and its Drill Sergeant School is moving to Fort Jackson, S.C., under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's plan to consolidate all active-duty drill sergeant schools in one location.

"The (closure) timeline was a little bit quicker than we anticipated. We knew it would happen, but thought it would be a year off," said Command Sgt. Maj. Dorsey Newcomb, Noncommissioned Officer Academy commandant.

In preparation for closing, the last class was smaller than usual.

"We had a lower student load than we anticipated, but also had a natural attrition of drill sergeant leaders (as their time on assignment ended). Out of 31 authorized positions, we had 20 drill sergeant leaders," said 1st Sgt. Brad Houston, the Drill Sergeant School course chief, "We could manipulate some drill sergeant leaders' term dates so they could stay and help us finish. We kept two drill sergeant leaders per squad, which is normal."

The school's cadre were concerned what their status would be when the school closed, and whether they would have to relocate to Fort Jackson to be a drill sergeant leader. The cadre was given the option to voluntarily transfer to Fort Jackson, but none chose to move, out of consideration for their military careers, said Newcomb.

"We focused on managing careers and getting the assignments needed," Newcomb said, speaking of the NCO Academy leadership's administrative efforts since learning of the closure date.

Despite the imminent school closure, the cadre remained focused on their mission of training and preparing drill sergeants that will serve in the initial-entry training environment.

"The cadre goal was to make sure students knew it was the last class, but for it to not be a distraction," Houston said, "The focus was teaching them how to be drill sergeants, and we stayed focused on their duties."

A student from the last class commented on the cadre's efforts.

"This class was conducted like there was another class to follow," said Staff Sgt. Allen Ivers, a drill sergeant candidate who graduated Friday.

Houston added, "Back in Feb. 2007, this was the highest rated Drill Sergeant School in the Army. It's disappointing knowing you have such a great institution and see it all come to an end."