FORT HOOD, Texas - Noncommissioned officers from 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade kicked off the "2009 Year of the NCO" at Raider Physical Fitness Center at Fort Hood Jan. 22.

The brigade command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Tedd J. Pritchard, plans to host monthly "NCO University" classes.

This month focused on leadership development and lifelong learning.

During the NCO University, the brigade command sergeant major introduced the 69th ADA Brigade "Way of Life" crest, counseling guide, Soldier risk assessment and counseling program, numerous NCO history documents and the NCO vision.

The NCOs were asked to raise their right hand and recite an oath that they will live by for the next year. The oath primarily focused on taking care of Soldiers and their Families.

One of the purposes of the "Year of the NCO" is to acknowledge the importance and dedication of the NCOs throughout the Army's history.

After years of service and dedication to the United States, NCOs will receive a year's worth of recognition for their efforts to improve and protect the American way of life.

The "Year of the NCO" has a mission to further empower and educate the Army's NCOs by persuading Soldiers to take advantage of educational opportunities, build both mental and physical fitness levels and intensify leadership skills.

The 69th ADA Bde. NCOs are scheduled to attend the NCO University training once a month for the next year. They will gain knowledge from a variety of motivational and informational speakers.

One of the speakers from this month's training session was Robena Tomlinson, the education services division guidance counselor for 69th ADA Bde.

The education center on post provides a quality education program with counseling services, financial aid, college programs, education resources and testing facilities, Tomlinson said.

Now classes are available on an iPod or MP3 player, she added.

Rank is earned with knowledge, said Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola, the command sergeant major for III Corps at Fort Hood. One way to gain some of the knowledge necessary to become an NCO is to take the initiative to invest time and effort into a good education.

"(The) 69th NCOs are a high-powered offense," Ciotola said, speaking to 69th ADA Bde. NCOs at Raider Physical Fitness Center.

Along with knowledge often comes power and responsibility. Noncommissioned officers have the responsibility to correct misinformed and inept Soldiers at all times, Ciotola said.

They are engineers who construct the battlefield, and they are depended upon to create Soldiers who have the potential to fill their shoes and create success in their absence, he added.

The vigor and force of the Army does not only lie within its firepower. The strength also lies in the hands of the NCOs.

The only way to make a stronger Army is to ensure that each Soldier has the capabilities to be a better Soldier than the Soldier before him, and one way to achieve that is with great leadership, Ciotola said.

A lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Army's leaders to build Soldiers who can proudly carry on the traditions of a powerful organization, and the "Year of the NCO" acknowledges a job for which so many have sacrificed so much.