CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - As young men and women enter the Army, they're taught discipline, self-confidence, endurance - the skills it takes to be "Army Strong."

Recruitment numbers are at the highest they've been in years, nearing 105 percent of the projected goal for the current fiscal year. Of those new recruits, nearly 84 percent will serve as enlisted Soldiers.

"When I joined the Army 25 years ago, I knew it was an opportunity to better myself," said Command Sgt. Maj. Tracey Anbiya, Installation Management Command-Europe's senior noncommissioned officer. "but just like past and future NCOs, you're not really sure about what your long-term goals are."

Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Ford said the Year of the NCO changes that. "It gives them that long-range goal of wanting to become a noncommissioned officer because they see exactly what the noncommissioned officer is all about," said the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux command sergeant major.

"I think they will get motivation - that motivation to excel," he added. "We are recognizing our NCOs for their contributions, as far as what they've done for our Army...I think as our junior enlisted Soldiers see that and recognize that, they understand the important roles of noncommissioned officers and it will make them aspire to want to be an NCO."

Anbiya said NCOs play various roles in the Army. "They are leaders. They are mentors. They are coaches. They teach. They train. They're advocates for their Soldiers. The NCO has been the backbone of the Army and will always be that backbone of the Army."

Ford recalled when he first pinned on his chevrons.

"I think I was wowed by it for the fact of, as a specialist, you look at those other leaders, those NCOs, and you say, 'I want to be an NCO.' And you always have that particular one. 'I want to be like that NCO.'

"So when I first made sergeant, I remember just walking and looking in the mirror and saying, 'Gosh, I'm an NCO,' said Ford.

It takes the average recruit about four years to become an NCO, and that accomplishment is what the Year of the NCO is all about. The program's goals are to enhance, recognize and inform.

"Through the enhancement, we are looking at the pride, the physical fitness, leadership development and those other programs that sustain and grow our Noncommissioned Officer Corps," said Anbiya.

"This year we'll also recognize the commitment, the dedication and the service of our noncommissioned officers. And we're also looking to inform the American people of what we do as noncommissioned officers in this Army."

From Corporals to the Sergeant Major of the Army, the make-up of the NCO corps is diverse. Although the majority of enlisted Soldiers are white males, those demographics have shifted over the years.

"Much of the success that we have in the Army is from the diversity of ideas and personalities working together to achieve the mission," said Anbiya. "I think that when we embrace diversity, we create a stronger and more efficient team."

NCOs throughout the Benelux and across the Army are charged with the mission of promoting diversity to their fellow Soldiers, Family members and the local community through Equal Opportunity programs.

Sgt. 1st Class Lee Leggett, in addition to his primary duties in the operations section, volunteered to serve as the Equal Opportunity Leader for the U.S. Army NATO SHAPE Battalion. As such, he coordinates observances for events like Black History Month.

He said he does it to educate Soldiers. "It keeps the heritage of diversity in the Army alive."

Because of the Benelux's remote locations, the garrisons and tenant units have NCOs serving as EO Leaders who rotate planning the community events.

"The NCOs play a role in it because we are the educators, the trainers, the mentors," said Ford.

Equal Opportunity in the Benelux is about more than skin color and gender. "Here in the Benelux, we're not just Army. We have Air Force located here. We have Navy located here, and when we do things here in the Benelux, we do it as Servicemembers, regardless of what branch of service we're in," said Ford.

"We're pushing this campaign as the Army, as in the Year of the NCO, but the duties and the responsibilities of an NCO, whether it be Army, the Air Force, the Navy or even the Marines, is practically about the same," he added. "That is accomplishing the organizations' missions, and also the care and welfare of your junior enlisted."

As Anbiya toured the garrisons within the Benelux and met senior NCOs from America's sister services, she saw the similarities Ford was referring to. "What I found is that they share the same concerns that we noncommissioned officers share in the Army," she said.

"Here in the Benelux, as we go and we put the Army NCOs out there, patting them on the back, rewarding them, letting them know what a great job they've been doing, we need to also do this in the community for our other services," said Ford.

Anbiya agreed. "Noncommissioned officers put integrity into everything they do."