FORT MEADE, Md. - Fort Meade officially kicked off "The Year of the Noncommissioned Officer" Feb. 6 in conjunction with a Right Arm Night event at Club Meade. Many felt that combining the two events was fitting.

"Considering that the right arm of many commanders is a noncommissioned officer," said Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Walker, of the Directorate of Emergency Services, "I think it's really great that they are having both events together."

Secretary of the Army Pete Geren named 2009 "Year of the NCO" to recognize the commitment of NCOs to service and their willingness to make great sacrifices on behalf of the nation. Throughout the year, the Army will honor NCOs through initiatives and events that will enhance awareness and public understanding of the roles and responsibilities of today's NCO, and enhance and accelerate the development of NCOs through education, fitness and leadership development initiatives.

Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas gave opening remarks and introduced guest speakers Maj. Gen. J. Michael Bednarek, commander of First Army Division East, as well as Command Sgt. Maj. David Roper, senior enlisted advisor at the National Security Agency, and Command Sgt. Maj. Marvell Dean, of First Army Division East.

For some, this year is a chance to recognize and thank the Noncommissioned Officer Corps.

"Where do we find these incredible Soldiers - these incredible noncommissioned officers to lead them, guide them, coach, teach, help, assist and rebuild'" Bednarek said during the event.

"I mean, it's powerful and all of you are a part of that. Thanks for what you are doing every day and for this year, as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer." Others are looking at this year as a chance to remember what it means to be an NCO.

"When you see a noncommissioned officer," Dean said, "that is what right is supposed to look like. We have Soldiers now who have forgotten that, and during this year we have to rededicate ourselves to that fact. We are the keepers of the standard."

For one NCO, being the "backbone of the Army" is both an adventure and a privilege.

"When a sergeant wakes up in the morning, they never know what will happen," Walker said.

"Soldiers will always keep you on your toes, but that is what makes this the greatest job in the world - taking a Soldier and molding them and training them and ... watching them become an NCO themselves and pass on what you have taught them. I just cannot think of anything better." Sgt. Kellee Neal, 241st Military Police Detachment, and 1st Sgt. Zachary Hansarik, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, cut the cake, which read, "Celebrating the Year of the NCO."

"It was a lot of fun," Walker said. "There were guest speakers, a raffle, food and cake. You can never go wrong with cake."