Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Ratliff, Fort Sill's Drill Sergeant of the Year, strives to embody his definition of a good noncommissioned officer.

"The definition of a noncommissioned officer is a leader," Ratliff said. "A noncommissioned officer is solely in charge of Soldiers, their Soldiers' training and well-being."

Ratliff, a 15-year Army veteran, represents Fort Sill in the TRADOC Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition.

He said he and every drill sergeant who is allowed to wear the round brown must be what right looks like for the recruits they are training.

"We train civilians to become Soldiers," Ratliff said. "We're training these young men and women to go into combat and face an enemy. We're the ones that are up at 4 a.m. and go to bed about 11:30 p.m. and spend minimal time with out families. Our Soldiers are our families when you're a drill sergeant."

He said drill sergeants must be at the top of their game because normally, Soldiers will go to combat within 60 to 90 days after graduating from Advanced Individual Training and what he and his fellow instructors teach them in nine weeks must get them combat ready.

The Honorable Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army, named 2009 the Year of the NCO.
Ratliff said he certainly appreciates the gesture.

"To me, the Year of the NCO means that someone far above me actually thinks and cares about my well-being and exactly what it is that a noncommissioned officer brings to the fight," he said. "It's got someone thinking about the NCO education system and the programs we need to bridge the gap between a noncommissioned officer and an officer."

Ratliff said he thinks officers have their lanes and NCOs have their lanes, but many times the lanes come together to accomplish the mission. He said he thinks the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer will go a long way to bridge those gaps.

Ratliff said his first impression of a good NCO dates back to when he was a young private and had a racist squad leader.

"As a young guy, I had pretty much determined the Army wasn't for me because I thought the entire Army was like that one guy," he said.

But, Ratliff's team leader at the time sat him down and told him what the Army was truly about.
"That NCO, Sgt. 1st Class Stan Clarity, really helped me out and showed me what the Army was all about and he helped me become a leader and to define what a leader really is. If it wasn't for him, I would've got out of the Army 12 years ago," said the man who is currently Fort Sill's Drill Sergeant of the Year.

Ratliff said his most memorable experiences as an NCO is taking Soldiers in to combat. He said that's what they train for and that's what they're ready for.

"I was with the 3rd Division, one of the first groups going into Iraq, and my Soldiers and I were some of the first to breech the doors of Saddam's Palace," he said with a smile. "It made me proud to take a group of Soldiers to Iraq, we fought battles, we fought skirmishes and I brought everybody back. As a noncommissioned officer, that's gotta be my proudest moment. We did what we trained to do and did it well."