When the Secretary of the Army declared 2009 as the "Year of the NCO," Fort Sill leaders wanted to ensure that the word got out to Soldiers here. It's fitting that Fort Sill's first YNCO event took place in the field.

As cannons shook the ground as they fired behind him, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert White of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery took center stage at Firing Point 196 to announce the YNCO. White, a 30-year Soldier, explained how the Army views the NCO.

"A noncommissioned officer is the primary trainer and executer of trained Soldiers in accomplishing their mission," White said. "We support the officer corps on the planning and execution. So, when you're talking to an NCO he's responsible for the health and welfare of his Soldiers and also of the family members. That's what an NCO does; He supports the officers.

"He's a manager, if you want to put it in civilian terms. He manages anywhere from seven to eight personnel, he has total control of those seven to eight personnel, so he's responsible to make sure that the crew, especially in the artillery, is well trained. Artillery is very crucial ...We have to make sure that wherever we fire it gets to the right point and time."

"From the early days of the Army, the NCO has been on the frontline to accomplish their missions," White said and added that the Secretary of the Army wanted to recognize NCOs for, "all the work that we have done for this country. They are telling us that they appreciate all the hard work that the NCO has done in the past wars, the present war and the future."

While White talked about the YNCO to local reporters, the guns of B Battery, the fort's salute battery, boomed just feet away. The gun crews fired in support of forward observers' training. White said the use of real artillery in their training allows the new FOs to see the accuracy of the guns and learn how different aiming patterns affect the target.

"For instance, because of the rifling of our guns, the rounds always curve to the left," 1st Lt. Josh McAlester, platoon leader, said while his right hand demonstrated a shallow left arc in the direction the battery was firing.

"The purpose of it is to show the AIT student what 'right' looks like on the battlefield," White said.
White's a firm believer in giving young Soldiers good training.

"My sweetest assignment in the Army was being a drill sergeant right here at Fort Sill during the Gulf War," White said with a smile, "being able to train the men, prepare them to go to the Gulf War ... and then a couple of years down the line see them still in and become a career Soldier.

"Being a drill sergeant is a demanding job. It's one of the jobs that are very demanding on yourself and your family, but the rewards are knowing that you are putting quality Soldiers in the Army to defend this country. That's the rewarding, positive thing about it. Yes, the drill sergeant does work very hard. We have systems in place now to help the families and everyone cope with the long hours, but it is an honor to be a drill sergeant."

Two years ago, the Army changed the requirements for training to take away some of the negative aspects. Army sergeants expected the worse, a generation of pampered, ineffective Soldiers because of that training. As a former drill sergeant, White remembers the training methods of yesterday and offered an educated, experienced comparison of the Soldiers coming out of the Fires Center of Excellence Field Artillery School today.

"The Army never lowered the standards, we never changed the standards," White said. "As a matter of fact, the privates coming out of advanced individual training are more physically fit, more technically trained and better than any other private in the history of this Army ... You wouldn't believe the things they are going through. They're learning not only their techniques as a cannoneer, they are learning how to do tactics, how to clear houses, how to handle prisoners of war, how to interact with Iraqis and understand their customs and their courtesy, so the privates are well trained. The standard has not been lowered."