January 9, 2009

WASHINGTON-The noncommissioned officer is the glue that has held the Army together over the last eight years, said the Army's senior enlisted advisor.

During a presentation at the Pentagon yesterday, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston discussed the contributions of the NCO to the Army mission and why the service has named 2009 the year of the NCO.

"This is an opportunity for us to showcase the contributions of the NCO corps," he said. "It's those noncommissioned officers out there every day who are not only winning the fight on the global war on terror, they're also the ones who directly influence their piece of the Army by being the first line supervisor for two or three Soldiers who they are responsible for. They're the ones who create command climate and train the Soldiers in their occupational specialties."

Preston told the audience of Soldiers and Army civilians that being an NCO was all about teaching from experience and that the two basic responsibilities of the NCO come from the NCO creed.

"It's accomplishment of the mission and the welfare of the Soldier," Preston said.

"One of the principal ways an NCO looks after the welfare of his Soldiers is through training -- it's about being a subject matter expert. We want our young Soldiers to study, to train and be the best Soldiers they can be, because as they move up into positions of increased responsibility they will be responsible for teaching from a position of experience. It's the experience that allows our NCOs to be trainers."

During the year of the NCO, the Army will work toward enhancing education, fitness, leadership development and pride in service by implementing programs and policies that support growth of the NCO corps, the sergeant major said. Additionally, the Army wants to recognize the leadership, professionalism, commitment and courage of the NCO through outreach events that are being planned throughout the Army.

With respect to education during the year of the NCO, the sergeant major said there were three pillars of learning for all Soldiers in the Army.

The first pillar of learning is institutional learning -- in the school house. The second pillar is that of operational experience -- the kind of learning that can only be learned in the field and by doing, Preston said.

"The third pillar is largely an untapped resource: self-development and self-study," Preston said. "One of the big initiatives coming out of this is the Army Career Tracker where we can begin to provide more guided and structured self-development initiatives. There are a lot of things out there we want our NCOs to be, know and do to take them to a whole new level."

The Career Tracker will identify a Soldier's path and their career track, mapping out specifically what they need to do to advance through the Army's ranks.

Preston said as Soldiers continue to develop and grow with their education, by the time they reach sergeant they've become very articulate, very smart and great spokespersons.