SCHINNEN, Netherlands - "Work hard; take the good with the bad and never forget your roots because part of being a noncommissioned officer is never forgetting where you came from," said Staff Sgt. Malcolm John Fleming. "It will help you on the path of leading Soldiers."

That is part of what being an NCO in the U.S. Army means to Fleming, who is assigned to the Headquarters Detachment for U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen and is now deployed to Iraq as a combat tracker with his dog Max, a Czech Shepherd.

Fleming, 30, volunteered to endure a nine-week combat tracker dog training course that, once completed, required a tour downrange. The initial training in Denver, Indiana and Yuma, Ariz., brings a Soldier and a dog together when predicting and responding in a battlefield environment and conducting basic, intermediate and advanced tracking over varied terrain.

"I enjoyed learning how to read and to understand my dog's behavior while tracking," said Fleming. Now deployed with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, Fleming and Max support Special Forces and infantry units by finding improvised explosive devices, spotters and snipers.

"There's nothing like seeing the enemy tremble at the sight of a military working dog," said Fleming, a 10-year veteran. "Soldiers I've met in Iraq have gone out on missions knowing that my job is to ensure their safety. We all come from different walks of life, but our common bond is to complete the mission and come back safe."

The secretary of the Army has proclaimed 2009 as the Year of the NCO. Accordingly, Fleming is part of a tradition that heralds the U.S. Army NCO Corps as a "national treasure," the "backbone of the Army" and the "boots on the ground" that express the will of an entire nation.

"It's nothing new," said retired Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Mutchler, now the installation safety officer for USAG Schinnen. "I first heard NCOs called the 'backbone of the Army' in the 1980s and, now, it's great that the Army has designated the Army NCO as a theme for an entire year. It'll help focus and explain the value of an NCO's service. In fact, the pride in knowing that I was part of the NCO corps kept me going and enabled me to continue a professional, rewarding life."

Indeed, "NCOs are a reflection of their Soldiers," said Fleming. "It is all about shaping young men and women to train for combat, be leaders in their communities and strong, positive influences in their family life. If Soldiers do all those things, then the NCOs have done their job."

Sgt. 1st Class Axe Fontenot, first sergeant for HHD, USAG Schinnen, called Fleming "a great NCO."

The garrison "misses him ... but we know that he's performing an important mission downrange. We want him to stay safe and we look forward to his safe return."