NATICK, Mass. - On Feb. 17, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC) here honored its Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs) and all Army NCOs with a kickoff event commemorating 2009 as the "Year of the NCO." The event hosted by Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, commanding general, NSSC, celebrated the crucial role NCOs play in the Army's mission.

NSSC's senior NCO, Command Sgt. Maj. Mittie Smith, U.S. Army Garrison Natick, said, "Since the birth of our Army, the NCO has been regarded as the 'backbone of the Army.' Today we are celebrating and honoring the United States Army Noncommissioned Officer, past and present."

Smith emphasized today's NCOs operate independently with confidence and competence. They are innovative and professional enlisted leaders grounded in heritage, values and tradition. They embody the Warrior Ethos, champion continuous learning and are capable of leading, training and motivating diverse teams.

The ceremony had several key events, including a recitation of the NCO Creed. Sergeants Erica Andruk, Michael Cavallo, and Carl Philpott delivered the creed in voices that filled the auditorium. In unison, they finished the creed: "I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are professionals, Noncommissioned Officers, leaders!"

Sgt. Akya Wilkins continued the momentum of the program with her song titled "Hero," honoring all our military.

Event host Fuller said the best training comes from NCOs. He told a story about Sgt. 1st Class Jones, his first platoon sergeant, who taught him more about the Army, being a leader and being an officer, than anyone else.

A bit tongue in cheek, Fuller remembered Jones was a bit rough around the edges, but he was "one heck of a leader."

Officers give general guidance, Fuller continued, but the NCOs are the backbone of the unit. Events such as this recognize the many contributions of the Army's NCOs.

Turning to the NCOs, Fuller said, "I salute all of you; you are the strength of the Army."

Wrapping up the event, Smith asked all NCOs, past and present, to stand and be recognized. Many civilians rose from their seats and were greeted with a round of applause. Smith emphasized that it is important to recognize and honor these former NCOs who continue to work to support our Soldiers.

Natick Soldier Systems Center will host a series of events throughout 2009 honoring the NCO, the "backbone" of our Army.