I have been asking a lot of Soldiers, family members and civilians on Fort Polk if they knew that 2009 was "The Year of the NCO." Most have replied 'no.' Those that said yes had a limited understanding of the reason behind this honor. Even less understood was our Army's intent behind naming 2009 as "The Year of the NCO" and our associated goals and objectives.

Everyone has heard that "NCOs are the backbone of the Army." What does this truly mean' What do NCOs do on a day-to-day basis' How do they differ from officers'

These and other questions like them are the reason behind the Year of the NCO.

Over the course of this year, I'll try to educate the public and answer these questions. We'll all end up with a better understanding and appreciation of the hard work and sacrifices of NCOs here at Fort Polk and across our Army.

I joined the Army in 1986 with a limited understanding of how our Army worked. I knew that officers were in charge and if you stayed in long enough, you'd become a sergeant and get to make someone do push-ups. (This is truly the way I viewed our Army).

I understood through movies and other media outlets that my drill sergeants and sergeants would be tough, but the true decision makers were our commissioned officers. Although this is somewhat true, the input provided by our NCOs into training, quality of life and other issues involving our Soldiers is enormous. They assist in the development of plans, and then oversee the execution of these plans.

Fast forward to 2009. How does a young man or woman's perception differ from mine when I was a young 19 year-old' Arguably, not at all. Most civilians view the roles and responsibilities of the NCO exactly the same way I did prior to joining the Army.

My first NCO in the Army, other than my drill sergeants, was Sergeant Stanley Salas. Hispanic in origin, Sergeant Salas was the epitome of what an NCO should be: intelligent, caring, hard, firm, fair, living all our current day Army values.

I was young and liked to have a good time. I would run the bars and get into other things associated with being young. Prior to any of my wild nights or weekends, Sergeant Salas would sit us all down and talk. He cared and we knew it. He would talk to us about our plans, ensure we knew the associated risks involved and help us alter our plans as needed. It is amazing how Soldiers truly know who cares versus those paying "lip service" to "check the block."

Sergeant Salas was also firm and fair. He would let me know when my actions and conduct were wrong, but he always showed me how to do things correctly. I had my butt chewed on more than one occasion by this tremendous leader, but I learned each and every time. Sergeant Salas would often say, 'it is acceptable to make a mistake once, but twice means you did not listen to what I told you."

He was physically fit, young at 26 and very well spoken. I use to marvel at his ability to speak to even our commissioned officers on topics ranging from training management, physical training, tactical orders to administrative functions such as formal counseling.

Little did I or others know that he was inspiring young Soldiers like me for future generations.

Noncommissioned officers like Sergeant Stanley Salas have served in our Army for 200- plus years. Great NCOs like Sergeant Salas live, work and reside across Fort Polk and Central Louisiana.

They are in our formations impacting the lives of young NCOs, commissioned officers and Soldiers today.

They are leading physical training, giving personal and professional advice, conducting pine-tree counseling, advising their officers, and most important -- making a difference.

The next time you see an NCO, please say 'thank-you' for me. Thank them for their hard work, dedication and contributions to our Army and Nation.

This is their year -- The Year of the NCO. To all my tremendous leaders and current day Sergeant Salas': thank-you for what you do.

God bless to all and this is only the beginning ...