Good morning, everyone! What a great day to be inside, huh'

Pete Geren, it's wonderful to see you. I would like to recognize General Craig McKinley, Director of the National Guard Bureau. The first National Guard officer to reach the rank of four stars, he's a great addition to the Army leadership team. So Craig, welcome. And thanks for all you do for us. [Applause].

A warm welcome to all of our noncommissioned officer inductees and their Families. I couldn't be more proud than to be part of your Army. To the Families, thanks for all you do to support your Soldiers. We say our Army is the Strength of the Nation. Our Families are the strength of our Soldiers. So thanks.

I'd also like to recognize these magnificent Soldiers out here representing the generations - not only of noncommissioned officers - but also of Soldiers. They're the history of our Army. How about a big hand for the Old Guard. [Applause].

Twenty years ago, Sergeant Major of the Army Bill Gates - together with Secretary of the Army John Marsh and Chief of Staff of the Army Carl Vuono - designated 1989 as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer. They viewed it as an opportunity to enhance the status of noncommissioned officers as a time-honored profession and to highlight the vital role that noncommissioned officers played and continued to play in the defense of the Nation.

This Year of the NCO came nearly two decades after much-needed, wide-ranging reform as our Army adjusted to the post-Vietnam era, grew into an all-volunteer force, and transformed its doctrine, weapon systems, force structures, and institutions - among them the Noncommissioned Officer Educational System.

Nothing dramatic happened overnight as a result of these reforms ... as is normal in large institutions. But over time, the educational system produced better and better sergeants. As that happened, the trust that officers placed in them grew. This led to increased responsibility for noncommissioned officers and, over time, a growing confidence in their ability to exercise that responsibility. All in all, the educational system reforms helped produce a restoration of noncommissioned officer professionalism that many of us in today's Army can barely fathom. In fact, as I look back, I lived through that. It is just remarkable how far we have come.

We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the leaders - the noncommissioned officer leaders - that led this change ... particularly to the Sergeants Major of the Army who guided us through that period. Sergeant Major Kidd and Sergeant Major Jack Tilley, it's great to have you here with us representing all of that.

We owe the same debt to the sergeants who stuck around during those lean years of the 1970s before the initial investment began to pay off and bear fruit. Noncommissioned officers like my first platoon sergeant, Tom Charo, who by their dedication and competence, taught officers like me to rely on them and inspired generations of privates to seek those coveted sergeants stripes themselves.

Now, Tom Charo is an interesting story. He taught me the role of a noncommissioned officer. He taught me the value of caring for Soldiers. And he taught me the value of attention to detail. I still keep in touch with him to this day. I was down at Fort Bragg about a month ago. We had a ceremony there, and he had come down. He was standing off on the side, so I called him up to the podium. He pretended to be angry, but he loved it. [Laughter]. I thanked him publicly and said what I really believe ... that I would not be the officer I am today had it not been for Tom Charo. And any officer will tell you the same thing ... that there is a noncommissioned officer behind them every step of the way.

I also give Tom a hard time because - we stayed in touch a little bit - but, until I made two-star general, I never heard from him very much. [Laughter]. Now, I hear from him all the time. He calls me up to give me advice. [Laughter].

All of us to some extent stand on the shoulders of the predecessors of these great noncommissioned officers. It's especially appropriate to remember that today as we induct these new sergeants into our Noncommissioned Officer Corps.

So in 1989, the Army leadership saw the need to recognize that a series of long-overdue reforms had restored and institutionalized the professionalism of our Noncommissioned Officer Corps. In doing so, they also honored sergeants for their service as leaders, trainers, role models, and standard-bearers.

Twenty years later, we do this again. Only now, we're transforming while the Nation is at war. We've been doing it continuously for seven years. Noncommissioned officers, more than anyone, know the stakes involved. As you know, they're leading from the front in this struggle to defend our freedoms and preserve our way of life. This is really clear when you look at who has received awards for valor since September 11, 2001. Noncommissioned officers have earned over 60 percent of our awards for valor, yet they represent less than 40 percent of our force.

Just this past Monday, there was an awards ceremony at Fort Campbell. Of the seven Soldiers on the stage, six were noncommissioned officers. The seventh was actually a second lieutenant who dove on a grenade to protect his platoon. I'll tell you that the more I travel around our posts and installations the more it's clear to me that our Noncommissioned Officer Corps is providing the glue that is holding this force together at a very, very difficult time for our Army and for our country. It is allowing us to accomplish the near-impossible every day.

Without a doubt, our Noncommissioned Officer Corps is a national asset. When I go around the world and I talk to different armies, it becomes very, very plain. Our sergeants are the envy of the world's armies. As a Nation, we should take special pride in that.

We should also take pride in the fact that our NCOs - through their courage, their commitment, and their sacrifice - personify a spirit of service. By answering that call, they represent for us what the President was talking about in his inaugural address. I'm going to read you what the President said on January 20th. In this part of his speech, he held up the men and women of the armed forces to the American people as an example of selfless service.

Here's what he said: "As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are the guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service - a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all."

Again, your President used the men and women of the armed forces as an example to the American people. And our noncommissioned officers are an example for all of us.

I offer that just as one more reason for us to respect this great Noncommissioned Officer Corps we've built and to recognize its amazing contribution to our Army and to our country. That's a contribution that is only going to grow in importance.

Finally, it's also fitting that we recognize and honor the contribution of our noncommissioned officers today - the 6th Anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is a war that has been carried and led by our Army and its noncommissioned officers. The success our Nation has achieved in Iraq is a reflection of the adaptive capabilities of this great institution and of the effectiveness of our small units led by our magnificent noncommissioned officers.

Thank you very much.