Believing that a speaker should either incite a desire or instill a thought, Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola, of III Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, did both as he spoke about the Army Noncommissioned Officers Corps, leadership and family.

The mirror is the most important piece of furniture, Ciotola said.Those who aspire to wear NCO chevrons and be responsible for others\' lives should stand in front of the mirror.

"I want you to be able to look in the mirror and say: 'I am the United States Army. I am a noncommissioned officer - all you need do, is follow me.'"

Ciotola was the keynote speaker at Fort Sill's 5th Annual NCO Backbone Ball March 6 at the Patriot Club. The Fort Sill NCO Academy hosted the ball, which was the installation's kick-off event for the Year of the NCO.

More than 500 Soldiers, family and friends attended the two and a half hourball, which featured a symbolic spinal column building ceremony, toasts, videos, Soldier recitations, dinner, door prizes, music and dancing.

In his welcome, NCO Academy Commandant Command Sgt. Maj. Dean Keveles acknowledged the efforts of many retired senior NCOs including command sergeants major from Fort Sill and the Training and Doctrine Command.

"They set forth what our forum for NCOs is today," he said. "We could never have done what we have if they had not set that path for us."

As a young staff sergeant in 1989, Keveles recalled that was also the Army's Year of the NCO.

"I see much more in the way of initiatives this year than ever before," said Keveles, the 23rd commandant of the academy."We are enhancing our noncommissioned officers'education, our health and fitness, our leadership development and we are emphasizing our pride in service."

In 2004 at the NCO Academy, then-Commandant Command Sgt. Maj. Allie Ousley asked Keveles and others to come with ideas on how Fort Sill could honor the NCO corps.

"We put our heads together and this (the Backbone Ball) is what we came up with, and here we are,"he said.

In his travels, Ciotola said that he has asked many Soldiers: What is the product of the American Army' The responses ranged from Army doctrine to memorized textbook answers.

"The product is people," said Ciotola, who enlisted in 1976. "We have saved more lives than we have taken."

The Army is the guys and gals with the guns,"but, the other thing that we seek solace in, that we seek refuge in, what we revel in, is the opportunity to put the smile on the face of a youngster everyday, Ciotola said.

"Soldiers help the destitute family, bring fresh water to a community, establish a sense of democracy where none existed before, he said.

"Any military organization can cut the grass," Ciotola said. "We in the American Army possess the capacity to make the grass grow."

Of the more than 250 nations around the world, many of their militaries aspire to be like the U.S. Army, specifically, its NCO corps, he said.

Aca,!A?People around the world are attempting to emulate the American noncommissioned officer model, but itAca,!a,,cs taken us almost 234 years to get to where we are,Aca,!A?said Ciotola, a native of New Jersey.

Personal leadership is the attribute that has lead to the success of todayAca,!a,,cs U.S. Army, he said.

Aca,!A"It is the hallmark of this institution, and it is the thing that will ensure our success on battlefields for years to come so long as we acknowledge it,Aca,!A? he said.

In 1941, personal leadership meant knowing your men, he said.Today, good leaders know their men, their women and their Soldiers families, because more than 50 percent of its Soldiers are married.

The strength of the nation is the Army and that the strength of the Army is the strength of its families, said Ciotola, quoting the Army chief of staff.

Ciotola said the one thing a young person in the Army has to possess to be successful is to have the moral courage to stand up and ask a question.

Everything that leaders know belongs to Soldiers, he said.

The NCO Corps is commonly referred to as the backbone of the Army.

Nine NCOs took part in a symbolic backbone building ceremony and showed what it takes to build the NCO corps. Each Soldier carried a ceramic portion of a vertebrae, representing his respective rank ranging from corporal to command sergeant major, and placed it in a display case as the master of ceremonies described the roles of that rank.

The base of the column began with the rank of corporal Aca,!" Aca,!A"the backbone of the
backbone,Aca,!A? said Johnny Donahue III, master of ceremonies. The successive ranks were placed on top of each other.

Describing the role of the sergeant first class, Donahue said, Aca,!A"There, he is training the platoon or section in their collective tasks. Here, he is managing the maintenance. There, he is planning, executing, perpetual motion, a blur, a personification of military leadership Aca,!" hot stuff!Aca,!A?

The crowd responded with Aca,!A"hooahs,Aca,!A?cheers and applause.

Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Smith, of the U.S. Army Field Artillery Center and Fort Sill, placed the final, top vertebrae representing the sergeant major of the Army rank.

After the ceremonies, Soldiers, spouses and guests hit the dance floor.