By By Harper Scott Clark, Contributing writer to III Corps PAOMarch 4, 2009
FORT HOOD, Texas (March 5, 2009) -- Ask Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola, command sergeant major of III Corps and Fort Hood, what makes the noncommissioned officer the backbone of the United States Army and he might wax eloquently for an hour.
But crystallized into one short statement, Ciotola can say it in four, crisp words: "We make things move."
To celebrate the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, Ciotola addressed his fellow NCOs Friday at a multi-tiered event that included an induction ceremony for new Army and Air Force NCOs, a cake cutting, and a ribbon cutting followed by a social hour to dedicate The Backbone - a new NCO lounge located in the Phantom Warrior Center.
An estimated 400-500 people jammed the ballroom at the center leaving standing room only in the back.
Ciotola's message told of the role of the NCO as the mainstay that makes the military go. Commanders make decisions, fashion policy and issue orders. The NCO executes the mission and provides the forward momentum, initiative and stabilizing force that makes it happen, Ciotola said.
Ciotola doesn't need a microphone. His voice carried across a crowded ballroom like a projectile from a gun barrel as he punctuated his main points. He welcomed the newly-inducted NCOs.
"What is this event - this induction ceremony'" Ciotola asked rhetorically. "It's a celebration and a commencement for you here today. We represent the colors in this great hall. We are all brothers and sisters and we welcome you."
He said the seasoned members of the NCO corps were there to show others the way, to encourage, to inspire them and to stand behind them.
Ciotola ticked off on both hands some of the traits of an NCO.
"We revel in that which makes us greater than our adversaries. We look to constant improvement and continued professionalism. It's in our professional ethics and in our Warrior Ethos. We are leaders. We place the mission of our Soldiers and their Families above all."
He said NCOs challenge themselves. They commit themselves to their commanders. And they tell their story - the Army story.
"Tomorrow the Army will be yours," Ciotola said. "What will you do with it'"
Ciotola said his love of the great institution of the U.S. Army and the NCO corps was equal to his love for his Family. He then ended his remarks on a power note.
"I am the United States Army. I am the sergeant. Follow me," he said.
Following the induction, Ciotola talked about the The Backbone - a place where NCOs can gather at end of day.
He called it a place where battle buddies could visit, celebrate their accomplishments or find refuge when needed.
Fort Hood closed its NCO club in the Phantom Warrior Center in 2002 and since has used the ballroom as a place for meetings, ceremonies and social events.
Mike Ernst, chief of the FMWR's business division, said the ballroom will remain separate and will continue to be rented out for weddings, business meetings and other functions.
He said hours of operations for The Backbone will be 5-11 p.m. Wednesday, 3-10 p.m.Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturdays.
"It will be a place to come have a beer and watch the game," Ernst said. "It's a great place for the NCOs to have their own place and hang out. It will be a great morale builder."
Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Felt, command sergeant major for the Fort Hood Garrison Command, commented on what he would take away from Ciotola's address.
"He said the NCO is the backbone of the Army because when there is a decision made, there is a directive given by a commanding officer. But at that point where the rubber hits the road there is a noncommissioned officer in charge of getting that done.
Whether it's the breach point, the assault wave on the beach, exiting the aircraft in flight the commander is the point of decision, but the sergeant is the point of execution. Hooah!"
On Jan. 6 at Fort Bliss, home of the Army's Sergeants Major Academy, the Army's top leaders announced the kick-off for a yearlong focus on the accomplishments of the noncommissioned officer.
Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Chief of Staff of the Army George W. Casey Jr., and Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston said the Year of the NCO would center on better developing the services' noncommissioned officer corps.
"We're taking this year and making it the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, so we can recognize their courage, their commitment, their competence, and their contribution to this war," Casey said.
"There is no doubt in my mind that our noncommissioned officer corps is the glue that holds this Army together and allows us to accomplish the impossible," Casey said.