CAMP VICTORY, IRAQ-We have had great progress within the professional maturity of the noncommissioned officer corps since the global war on terror began. Our noncommissioned officers evolved to a level of excellence unmatched by any other war-fighting organization in the world. This makes the Army theme "Year of the NCO" for 2009 very appropriate.

When the Warrior Ethos and Soldier's Creed were introduced, they provided all the direction needed to help transform a mindset consistent with a more prompt and modular approach in our war-fighting units. The warrior-first mentality had a profound impact on how we approach training and on the expectations we place on our noncommissioned officers. It helped develop the confidence and spirit needed to face the enemy and endure the challenges of combat.

One of the most powerful evolutions derived from the warrior-first mentality is the universal focus on a common warrior skill set. All Soldiers, regardless of military occupational specialty, must be able to perform basic war-fighting tasks required to fight and win on the battlefield.

Today, we have Soldiers in low-density military occupational specialties that are as confident and competent in their war-fighting skills as combat arms Soldier. The days of "I only work in the motor pool" are over. Everyone is a warrior first.

There is nothing uncommon about seeing artilleryman entering buildings and clearing rooms. Nothing uncommon about logisticians responsible for commanders' personal security details. Food service specialist providing convoy security and tankers conducting dismounted patrols in an urban environment.

Today we see the most diverse and flexible Task Forces ever assembled. Task Force Mountain has consisted of cavalry, armor, mechanized infantry, light infantry and fires brigades performing as maneuver forces. Each brigade conducts operations unique to their traditional role, and they do so admirably.

The noncommissioned officer is the force behind this transformation. They are responsible for the development of our Soldiers' individual, crew and team-level tasks. They understand the importance of inspiring and motivating Soldiers, even in tasks outside their scope of expertise. I see the success of their actions every day during battlefield circulations. I have conducted dismounted and mounted patrols with every unit within our Task Force and it's absolutely amazing to witness the level of professionalism we have in our Army.

Our renewed focus and mentality helped shape our core competencies as warriors and strengthened our mental and physical toughness. It developed the spiritual foundation needed to have the will to fight under the most adverse conditions. It prepared Soldiers during the day-to-day patrols in 120-degree heat on the streets of Baghdad wearing full armor, or those patrolling at elevations in the Himalayas of Afghanistan, where it seems only animals go to die. This toughness, this drive, has been our way of life for the last seven years. Our noncommissioned officers have instilled these strengths within our Soldiers with confidence through competence.

The Army Force Generation process has increased our ability to sustain proficiency in our war-fighting requirement and attain a level of mastery while deployed in theater. This is a significant change from what we used to experience during the peaks and valleys of the "band of excellence." The aggressive operation tempo we have endured the last five years has seasoned our noncommissioned officers to a level of war understanding higher than ever before.

This is thanks to our new training requirements which have become a lot more demanding and sophisticated as well. A Soldier's weapon is no longer just a weapon; it is a system. Noncommissioned officers train their Soldiers to exploit their system regardless of job specialty. Today, our Soldiers conduct reflexive firing drills as part of their short-range marksmanship. They conduct tactical rifle ranges instead of just the standard qualification tables of old. Another variable with a profound impact has been the Army's emphasis on combative training. All Soldiers train on these critical tasks as part of their common warrior skill set. These paradigm changes have had a huge impact on our entire Army. All our Soldiers now have the ability and spirit to close with the enemy and destroy him with the confidence and discipline of a true professional.

Another profound evolution in our noncommissioned officers is the level of expectations placed on them. It is much higher now than ever before during my career. With the fight taking place at the squad and platoon levels in two theaters of conflict, every noncommissioned officer is critical in achieving success and saving lives. This requires them to perform at the highest level of potential within their roles. There's no micromanaging and no suppression of their initiative. They are required to make decisions that can determine the life or death of the warriors they lead. They are doing things that far exceed what was required of them in the past. They understand governance, economic development and the importance of reconstruction. They associate with provincial leaders, sheikhs, village elders, school principles. They get to know them personally and talk to them professionally. They're credible in the eyes of these leaders, and that says a lot about them.

The level of personal and professional maturity of our noncommissioned officer corps is nothing short of remarkable. We have come a long way in the last seven years during the Global War on Terror and the transformation of our Army. We have the best noncommissioned officers of any war-fighting organization in the world. That's why we're the backbone of our Army and why it's clearly appropriate to make this year's theme the "Year of the NCO."