JUNCTION CITY, Kan. - Noncommissioned officers are at the forefront of every battle. They are there to mentor and discipline, to guide and challenge. This year the Big Red One is celebrating the commitment to excellence and the Duty First attitude of its NCOs, the backbone of the Army.

First Infantry Division Command Sgt. Maj Jim Champagne said the chief of staff of the Army and the sergeant major of the Army announced at the 2008 Association of the United States Army conference that the year 2009 will be the Year of the NCO.

"The intent is three-fold - to enhance the education, fitness, leadership and pride and service of our noncommissioned officers; to recognize the leadership commitment and courage of our NCOs; and to inform key audiences about the responsibilities and quality of our noncommissioned officer corps," Champagne said.

The 1st Inf. Div. celebrated the Year of the NCO with a Feb. 26 ceremony highlighting the achievements and accomplishments of NCOs throughout American history. From Valley Forge to missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Soldiers of the Fort Riley Sgt. Audie Murphy Club portrayed a specific era and war citing historical highlights and successes.

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Tadeusz "Ted" Gaweda, a Nazi labor camp survivor and guest speaker for the ceremony, told a packed C.L. Hoover Opera House that sergeants are Soldiers' primary source of information.

"Every Soldier has a sergeant, even the chief of staff of the Army. A Soldier should have to look no farther than his or her sergeant for guidance, training, enthusiasm and assistance of all types," Gaweda said. "Each Soldier's behavior must be given individual attention, be it a commendation or fitting punishment. The sergeants must help the Soldiers stabilize themselves and provide them with the foundations for future growth."

Gaweda quoted Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben's words written at Valley Forge more than 200 years ago in his "Blue Book," which provided the foundation and blueprint for the Army's NCO corps.

"The choice of noncommissioned officers is an object of greatest importance," Gaweda said as he recalled Von Steuben's words.

"The order and discipline of a regiment depends so much upon their behavior that too much care can not be taken in preferring none to that trust but those who by their merit and good conduct are entitled to it. Honesty, sobriety, and a remarkable attention to every point of duty, with neatness in their dress, are indispensible requisites."

To become better leaders and Soldiers; to set the example for those lower ranking than themselves because they are the future of our Army and our country, Soldiers only need to look to Soldiers such as Gaweda, Champagne said.

"When you want to see what right looks, you look at Command Sgt. Maj. Ted Gaweda," Champagne said. "He is the epitome of the noncommissioned officer corps."