WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 20, 2009) -- Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston challenged junior non-commissioned officers to become subject-matter experts in their respective fields.

"Training is a key role for the NCO," Preston said. "And the best way you can take care of your Soldiers is to teach them to be the best at their profession."

During a ceremony to celebrate the Army's Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, March 19, Preston addressed Soldiers about the importance of being the best at what they do.

"As a Soldier and an NCO, your goal is to be a subject-matter expert in your field," he said. "Across the 150 jobs in the Army, there are opportunities for excellence in your profession."

Some examples, said Preston, include pursuing awards like the Expert Infantryman's Badge, the Silver Spurs for cavalrymen and other similar commendations depending on military occupational specialty.

The ceremony, held at Conmy Hall on Fort Myer, combined a traditional pass and review with an induction ceremony in which 29 Soldiers were welcomed to the NCO Corps.

The floor of Conmy Hall was a trip through time as units from the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) and the U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) performed a pass and review.

Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Preston reviewed the units, some of whom were dressed in period uniforms to pay tribute to NCOs who served in previous wars.

"We're here to honor the heart and soul of the Army: the NCO Corps," Geren said. "They're the keepers of our standards, from the recruiting station, to basic training, to Iraq -- or Forward Operating Base Blessing, at the end of the world."

The tribute also doubled as a history lesson for attendees. As each unit marched in front of the reviewing stand, an announcer explained their role in the history of the Army, or the significance of their uniform.

The original Commander-in-Chief's Guard, for example, was a hand-picked group of Soldiers from each of the 13 colonies. As George Washington trained them, he taught them European war strategies and techniques and instilled in them the ideals that modern-day NCOs still hold, including a devotion to service and excellence.

"The more I travel around our posts and installations, the more I see that the NCO provides the glue that holds our Army together," Casey said. "They allow the Army to do what it does today."

The two main priorities of NCOs, Preston said, are to accomplish the mission and to ensure the welfare of Soldiers. While inducting the new sergeants, he highlighted the importance of education and training in the NCO Corps.

"You have been chosen because of your knowledge, your desire to learn and your potential to train Soldiers to be the best," Preston said.

Casey said the NCO is a "time-honored profession," the role of which has grown and expanded over the past 20 years, since the original "Year of the NCO" in 1989.

"Nothing dramatic happened overnight," he said, referring to the introduction and expansion of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System. "But over time the education system reforms began producing better sergeants."

The general recalled President Barack Obama's inaugural address, in which the commander-in-chief described the U.S. military as exemplars of the spirit of service he wants to see flourish again in America.

"Our president used Soldiers as an example to the American people," Casey said. "And our NCOs are an example to us as Soldiers."

(Ian Graham writes for the Pentagram at Fort Myer, Va.)

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