With recognition of and pride in the noncommissioned officers who serve Aberdeen Proving Ground, the installation hosted a kick-off celebration of the Year of the NCO with a gathering at the Post Recreation Center Feb. 24.

The Year of the NCO proclamation signed by Secretary of the Army Pete Geren recognizes the NCOs "commitment to service and willingness to make great sacrifices on behalf of the nation."

"Throughout 2009," it states, "the Army will honor NCOs through initiatives and events that enhance awareness and public understanding of the roles and responsibilities of today's NCO; and that enhance and accelerate the development of NCOs through education, fitness, and leadership development initiatives."

APG Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Pedro Rodriguez led the festivities for the more than 300 NCOs who filled the center's ballroom, dining on complimentary food and beverages. Festivities included a pageant of Army uniforms worn during the nation's conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to present, and remarks by Brig. Gen. Lynn A. Collyar, chief of Ordnance and commander of the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools.

In addition, the U.S. Army Materiel Command Band, led by Sgt. Maj. Wendy Thomson, serenaded the gathering with patriotic music.

Sgt. 1st Class Irether Gaines, senior chaplain's assistant, offered the invocation before the posting of the colors by members of the Advanced Noncommisioned Officer Academy.
Rodriguez welcomed the NCOs noting that 2009 is "designated as a thank you for what we do. We are truly the backbone of the American Army."

"Since 9-11, the Army has been a symbol of hope for oppressed people all over the world," he said. "We understand well that freedom comes with a price."

In demonstration of the sacrifices laid down since the start of the War on Terror, Rodriguez asked recipients of the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star medals, Combat Action and War on Terror badges to stand. Respondents totaled more than half the room.

Commenting on the Year of the NCO initiatives of education, fitness and leadership development, Collyar said that he wanted to address fitness.

He shared a personal story about a heart attack he suffered one morning nearly two weeks prior after physical training. He said he felt no pain but enough discomfort to know something was wrong. At the hospital, the problem was diagnosed within minutes. His right coronary artery was 100 percent blocked, and he had surgery the same day. There was no damage to the heart, and he was told that he soon can resume PT.

"I survived because I was in good physical condition," Collyar said. "You owe it to your Families to do the right thing: to maintain your fitness - physical, mental and spiritual.

Collyar said that if he were an NCO in the Year of the NCO, NCOs would be treated differently.

"An E-6 may be over a convoy and responsible for everything in it, making life and death decisions," he said. "We give you significant responsibility and you stand up to the challenge everyday."

Once back in the states, however, the decision-making power is taken away, he said.

"We need to adjust the regulations and give NCOs the same responsibilities in peacetime or wartime. They've proven themselves or they wouldn't be noncommissioned officers.

"We need to look at everything we do and make sure we give NCOs the responsibility they deserve," he said.

He asked listeners to spend the evening networking and to remember their health and well-being.

"Your Families deserve you in good health long after the Army's over," he said.
Before taking his seat Collyar cut the Year of the NCO cake assisted by Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Spohn, the installations' NCO of the Year for 2008.

The ceremony closed with the retiring of the colors and the singing of the Army Song.
Rodriguez thanked the AMC Band, the NCO Academy, the mobile unit of the United Services Organization from Fort Myer, Va., and chapter president Mary Jane Jernigan of the Aberdeen chapter of the Association of the United States Army for their support of the program.

Several NCOs shared their thoughts on the kickoff and what the Year of the NCO means to them.
1st Sgt. Larry Tyson, HHC Garrison, and a co-organizer of the event, said that because APG NCOs are spread out in different organizations and seldom interact, the kickoff was a good way to promote camaraderie.

"Traditionally you have a battalion or unit NCO Call but that doesn't happen here," he said.
He noted that the NCOs of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines detachments were in attendance for the kickoff.

"All branches came together," he said. "It was a true NCO call."

"The pageant of uniforms showed how the nation goes to the expense to ensure that Soldiers are the best equipped on the battlefield," he added, "and the program successfully highlighted NCO contributions and the strength of the NCO Corps."

"It was the nicest event I've seen in my two years here."he said
Spohn said he was honored to be a part of the ceremony and to represent APG over the past year.

"NCOs have been the backbone of the Army for [more than] two-hundred thirty-three years," Spohn said. "It's great to see fine Soldiers receive the respect they deserve."
1st Sgt. Anthony Dorsey, ANCOC, said that he appreciated the message of the pageant of uniforms.

"It was important because a lot of our younger NCOs might not have had a great understanding of how the uniform changed over the years to fit the needs of the Soldier," he said.
Noting that the mission of NCOA is to "mentor and teach," he said that the Year of the NCO confirms that importance.

"We do this on a daily basis, and this is an acknowledgement that it's not a waste of our time," he said.

"I thought it was outstanding," said Sgt. 1st Class Garvin Jackson, an ANCOC instructor with NCOA. Jackson said he enjoyed the refreshments, the uniform pageant and the general's speech. "He was saying that NCOs are worthy of more respect and responsibility," he said. "That's true because when NCOs are put into those positions they've shown that they're able to do those jobs."

Displays and banners

Displays and banners created by the APG Garrison's Visual Information Services Division hailing the history and doctrine of the NCO Corps decorated the ballroom. Visual information specialists Beth Brendle-Williams and Ralph Broth led the team that created the 8-foot high by 20-foot wide backdrop on the stage and the 13 banners that were posted around the ballroom. Brendle-Williams and Broth said they designed the banners using information and guidelines from the Year of the NCO Web site.

"It was a total team effort," Brendle-Williams said.
Broth said that the project, which included several hours of research, was completed in about four days.

"We wanted whatever we created to be consistent with the yearlong theme," he said.


Mary Jane Jernigan, president of the Aberdeen Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, said the chapter was proud to support the event.
"It was an honor to give a small token of our appreciation to these Soldiers, the backbone of our Army," Jernigan said. "When I stood and listened to them singing the Army Song, I knew I was in a room full of heroes."