Sergeant Major Erwin "Butch" Koehler

United States Army

November 1958 – June 1985

Sgt. Maj. Erwin H. Koehler, a native of Elberta, Alabama, served more than 27 years in the United States Army beginning his career as a Flight Operations Coordinator and culminating with his assignment to the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy as the Primary Leadership Development Course Branch Chief. It is here that Sgt. Maj. Koehler’s contributions to leader development and the Sergeants Major Academy were demonstrated.

After creating a widely-circulated NCO Development Program sample program of instruction, then Master Sergeant promotable Koehler, a graduate of Sergeants Major Course Class 13, was reassigned in August 1980 to USASMA’s Directorate of Training Development. He served as a training developer in the Noncommissioned Officer Development Branch responsible for researching NCO development issues. During that time Training and Doctrine Command reassessed the NCO Education System and eventually directed the creation of a four-tiered system of education for enlisted Soldiers. USASMA was tasked to develop a program of instruction that would combine the Primary NCO Course and the Primary Leadership Course into one course of instruction. USASMA selected Sgt. Maj. Koehler to head up the effort and he was put in charge of the newly created Primary Leadership Development Branch. He proved instrumental in the Army ushering in the Primary Leadership Development Course, the precursor to the Basic Leader Course.

As the Primary Leadership Development Branch Chief Sgt. Maj. Koehler was responsible for conducting course front-end analysis to determine what subjects should be taught. He developed the course objectives, lesson objectives, reviewed each lesson, made suggested changes, and approved the lessons. He developed the final program of instruction and a detailed Instructor Handbook which outlined the manner in which the course was to be conducted. Once the course was completed, he personally conducted validations at the Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri NCO Academies.

Sgt. Maj. Koehler’s efforts in the creation of the Primary Leadership Development Course ensured training at each of the Army’s 29 NCO Academies was standardized for the first time and moved NCO education away from lecture-type instruction to hands-on instruction using the small group setting.

Sgt. Maj. Koehler’s interest in history and the story of the U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer led him to another significant contribution to NCO education. After his retirement from the Army in 1993, Koehler worked as a volunteer at the Museum of the Noncommissioned Officer. An avid writer, Koehler contributed four oral history interviews with former Sergeants Major of the Army William Connelly, Silas Copeland, Julius Gates, and George Dunaway that were eventually used as the cornerstone for the U.S. Army Center for Military History book, “The Sergeants Major of the Army.”

His awards include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal (Numeral 3), Army Commendation Medal (fourth oak leaf cluster), Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry (with Palm).