A lot of attention is being paid to the Army's NCOs this year. One of the real strengths of our force is the NCO Corps. How many times have you heard it said that NCOs form the backbone of the Army'

If NCOs are the backbone, what do you call the subset who hold together the NCO Corps' The spinal cord' I am talking about senior NCOs - sergeants first class through command sergeants major. To beat the metaphor to death, they are the central nervous system of the Army, I guess.

There isn't a single Soldier in the Army, officer or enlisted, who hasn't been profoundly affected by a senior NCO. Whether it was a tough platoon sergeant who guided a young lieutenant through the pitfalls of leadership, a master sergeant who served as mentor and example for a staff section, or a command sergeant major who served as trusted friend and adviser to a senior commander, everyone in the Army can point back at a senior NCO who played a central role in success.

Many writers have described our NCO corps as the envy of other armed forces around the globe. That is no doubt true. But, I think our senior NCOs are truly unique.

The commander directs what is to be done. Subordinate officers flesh out those directives within the commander's intent. Junior NCOs see that tasks are executed. In a well trained force, it forms a smoothly operating machine.

Senior NCOs aren't always direct players in that process, but they are critical to that smooth operation.

Rather than being doers, senior NCOs are experts on doing things right. Rather than being innovators, those top Soldiers are the ones who ensure innovations are grounded in the lessons of experience.

They know what it feels like to be a Soldier at the bottom of the rank structure, but they have also been a first line leader and have grown to understand the demands placed of commanders and staff officers. In some ways, senior NCOs are the ones who bind the other ranks into a cohesive whole.

The Army is a large institution. As its members are transferred from place to place they size one another up.

What sort of Soldier is that new specialist' What will it be like working for the new company commander' What will be the impact of the new general'

Senior NCOs draw less of that speculation. It is part of our culture to just expect those Soldiers with multiple rockers to be very good at everything they do. It's a heck of a responsibility, if you think about it.

So here's to those men and women with the rockers, the diamonds and the stars.

They are the best of the best.

David W. Kuhns Sr. is editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.