FORT LEE, VA - Fort Lee officially launched its "Year of the Noncommissioned Officer" celebration with an NCO Induction Ceremony Feb. 20 at the NCO Academy's Hazzard Auditorium.

Twenty-four NCOs, ranging from sergeants to sergeants first class, participated in the event designed to acknowledge their transition into the NCO Corps, recognize Soldiers for their leadership abilities and affirm their commitment to their fellow Soldiers and the Army.

"Year of the NCO" is an Army-wide focus that serves to enhance the development of enlisted leaders and bring clarity to their roles and responsibilities as NCOs, known internally as the "backbone of the Army."

Command Sgt. Maj. June Seay, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Lee command sergeant major, was the guest speaker.A,A Before an audience of about 200 NCOA students and the inductees, Seay said NCOs have a time-honored tradition of training, mentoring, guiding and caring for Soldiers, and the responsibility rests with them to continue that tradition.

"It's time to do a gut check," she said.A,A "The heat is now on.A,A You are no longer part of the pack; you are now the leader.A,A You are no longer the observer; you are now an enforcer.A,A You are no longer looking for the right answer, you are the answer.A,A You are no longer looking for examples to emulate; you are that example.

"The bottom line, sergeants, is that you are where the rubber meets the road."

Seay, a Soldier of 26 years, noted that she is a product of tough NCO leadership and that her "rubber meets the road" juncture came in the early 1980s when her enlisted leaders gave her something close to an ultimatum.

"Those NCOs I can describe as being tough as woodpecker lips," said Seay.A,A "They were determined to make a Soldier out of me or send me home ... Today, I can say I stand here appreciative of their strong leadership and dedication."

Following Seay's speech, host and Quartermaster Center and School Command Sgt. Maj. Nathan J. Hunt, led the group in the noncommissioned officer charge, a pledge of responsibility that's regarded as the 'meat and potatoes' of the ceremony.A,A That's partly what excited Sgt. Evan Kirouac, an eight-year Soldier promoted late last year.

"Every rank gets promoted in front of the company," said the Soldier assigned to 109th Quartermaster Company, 240th QM Battalion, 49th QM Group, "but to be a part of the induction ceremony, you're with your fellow noncommissioned officers as a group; it's like an affirmation.A,A It's official."

Not all of the participants were newly promoted.A,A A,A Staff Sgt. Timothy Johnson has been in the NCO Corps for years but said he decided to participate because he had never been part of such a ceremony.

"It was the greatest experience," said the Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence Soldier. "I didn't know anything like this existed, but I'm truly honored to be part of that tradition known as the backbone of the Army."

Johnson, a food service instructor, said he wanted to convey to his students the pride he has as an NCO and the sense of privilege he has in guiding them.

"I'm a trainer and I know my Soldiers look up to me," he said.A,A "There are only two Soldiers they are going to remember during their military careers:A,A the good ones and the bad ones.A,A

"I'm one of the good ones."

Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee commanding general, attended the ceremony along with Brig. Gen. Jesse R. Cross, QMC&S commanding general, and Col. Michael Morrow, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Lee commander.

Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Sgt. Maj.of the Army Kenneth O. Preston kicked off the Army's Year of the NCO Jan. 5 at Fort Bliss, Texas - home of the Army's Sergeants Major Academy.