FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. -- It is an honor for me to dedicate my first column of 2009 to celebrating and honoring the Army's professional NCO tradition as we kick off "The Year of the NCO" at Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem, Ga.

Secretary of the Army Pete Geren announced 2009 would be "The Year of The Noncommissioned Officer" during the 2008 Association of the United States Army annual meeting and exposition. "At the front of every Army mission in the United States or overseas, you'll find a noncommissioned officer," he said. "They know their mission, they know their equipment, but most importantly, they know their Soldiers."

Locally, we plan to put the spotlight on at least one NCO every month in the Sentinel and incorporate as many NCOs as possible into the many events we conduct throughout the year. Their message is important and I want to make sure the opportunities for them to share it are abundant.

NCOs are accomplished military professionals with the well-earned moniker "Backbone of the American Army." Today, they are leading the charge from the front on battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are the standard keepers for the military and provide a valuable service in training, leading, mentoring and caring for Soldiers. They've made great sacrifices in the line of service and have continually proven their dedication to service and a willingness to make great sacrifices on behalf of our nation.

NCOs recognize that an important part of their job is caring and looking out for the welfare of Soldiers and their Families. To recognize that, we will also be publishing articles in 2009 that deal with quality of life issues for Soldiers and Family members and once again spotlighting those Soldiers who are making a difference.

NCOs have a well-earned reputation for having operational and strategic awareness to interpret and issue orders as necessary within their duties and in the absence of officers. Every officer, myself included, fresh from the basic course remembers his or her first NCO leader - because it is this NCO who has a wealth of Soldier experience and the ability to train and advise the newly commissioned officer. Throughout the history of the U.S. Army, senior NCOs have helped young lieutenants with field problems and have provided advice to young officers about how to deal with Soldier problems and how to care for Soldiers.

The greatest NCO in my life has been my father. A retired sergeant major, he served two tours in Vietnam and is still my mentor, my advisor and my closest friend. He continues to diligently serve this country every day by providing a persistent and watchful eye. He still carries the special forces torch in his heart and continuously embodies the warrior ethos and values. He is a truly remarkable man, and I remain proud and honored to salute him.

Our NCOs embody what it means to be Army Strong. They provide inspiration and motivation. Our NCOs are outstanding role models for all Americans and are exemplary representatives of our nation's moral character and strength. I'm proud to serve alongside the NCOs at Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem and know that some of the best of the best are stationed here in the metropolitan Atlanta area. You make a difference to the nation, the Army, this installation and to the communities where you give so much of yourself. Thank you for your professionalism and service.