FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - Fort Leonard Wood officially kicked off the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer in ceremony at Nutter Fieldhouse, Friday.

Hundreds of Soldiers from the installation gathered to celebrate a campaign that was announced by Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Chief of Staff of the Army George W. Casey Jr., and Sgt. Maj. of Army Kenneth O. Preston stating 2009 as a year for recognizing NCOs contributions - past and present.

Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, Maneuver Support Center and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, said without the NCO Corps, the Army would not be the same.

"We need you guys, Martin said. "You are the most experienced NCO Corps in history."

Martin said NCOs have credentials that no one else in the Unites States has. "You all take care of Soldiers and troops with compassion ... we need you to be leaders in our country," Martin said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hayes, MANSCEN and Fort Leonard Wood, said during the Year of the NCO, there are three lines of communication directed to the efforts of message of the NCO program - enhancing the NCOs education, recognizing leadership and professional commitment and informing the American people about the NCO.

Throughout the ceremony, NCOs shared professional and personal experiences that shaped their careers.

"We all have something in common; it is a never-ending cycle that has remained unbroken since the 1700s," Hayes said. "The Soldier comes in and is formed by a NCO who was a Soldier. That Soldier is developed and then becomes a NCO. With experience and knowledge that is passed on to that Soldier, they keep that cycle unbroken."

Hayes said NCOs also need to recognize their value and worth to the Army. He said no matter what they do - driving trucks to being a platoon sergeant - all of their jobs are important and so are they.

While celebrating the NCO, Preston approved monthly focus topics. March is the focus on physical fitness and the rest can be found on the Web site.

(Editor's note: Allison Choike writes for the Fort Leonard Wood GUIDON.)