In recognition to the Army's noncommissioned officers and their commitment to service and willingness to make great sacrifices on behalf of the United States, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren established 2009 as "Year of the NCO" and just seven weeks into the Year of the NCO, noncommissioned officers are being honored Army-wide.

The 21st Theater Sustainment Command in Kaiserslautern, Germany, honored four NCOs from the 720th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 28th Transportation Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade with Purple Hearts Feb. 12 at the 28th Transportation Battalion Headquarters on Coleman Barracks in Mannheim during an award presentation ceremony.

Staff Sgt. Gabriel Burkman, Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wagner, Staff Sgt. Beau Martindale and Sgt. Nathan Williams stood at the position of attention as Maj. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, commanding general, 21st TSC, presented the EOD NCOs Purple Hearts for injuries suffered while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 07-08.

"I am sad that these Soldiers were hurt, but with the Global War on Terror and with tribute to the training and combat focus-this has helped them survive," said Fontaine. "It's always an honor to give this award. Thank you for serving our nation," Fontaine told the NCOs and their families.

The four NCOs received Purple Hearts from five different incidences while deployed, and one of the NCOs, Burkman, was the recipient of two Purple Hearts.

"I had four Soldiers receiving Purple Hearts," said Maj. Walter Bielecki, company commander, 720th EOD Co. "This is the year of the NCO. This is an excellent example of how our NCO's support us on a daily basis and continually manage to accomplish the mission."

A clear demonstration of this statement is how Martindale received his injuries. Martindale suffered his injuries in Afghanistan when he was hit by a secondary Improvise Explosive Device Oct. 24.

"We were clearing a route and our convoy was hit by an IED. We then did a post-blast analysis, where we get out to investigate, when the second device went off about ten feet away from me," said Martindale. "We were going through one of the passages clearing a route and were hit. It was about ten pounds worth of explosives, a remote control IED," Martindale added.

Martindale suffered injury in his right ear, permanently losing most of his hearing in that ear, while secondary fragmentation from gravel struck his right arm and a few pieces of gravel embedded in his neck and head.

Williams was also out on a route clearance patrol Feb. 24, 2008, but with the 70th Engineer Battalion, from Fort Riley, Kansas, when he received his wounds in combat.

"We were driving on a route clearance patrol when an IED went off under my vehicle," said Williams. The driver's side of the Joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal Rapid Response Vehicle was hit leaving all three Soldiers inside the vehicle with minor injuries. Williams suffered a sprained back and a concussion.

"We actually got out after the blast and did a post-blast analysis. There were five pounds of homemade explosives in the pressure plate," added Williams.

The 720th EOD Company returned from their deployment in November of 2008 and is currently conducting EOD operations for the Mannheim military community.