JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida is known for its alligators, and keeping an eye on more than 50,000 of them is part of the daily responsibilities of one of the U.S. Army Reserve's newest ambassadors.

U.S. Army Reserve Ambassador Dave Kratzer isn't wrestling 15-foot carnivorous reptiles in the Florida swamps, but rather helping oversee student issues at the University of Florida at Gainesville.

Kratzer, a graduate of both Western Illinois University and the University of Illinois, was appointed as an ambassador by Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, on Feb. 3.

The Army Reserve Ambassador program was created in 1998 to establish relationships with political, business and civic leaders. They serve as the bridge between the Chief of the Army Reserve and state and local communities, and promote awareness of Army Reserve issues.

As the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Kratzer, a retired Army Reserve major general, took time from his academic schedule to embark on his first opportunity as an ambassador -- to visit a recent Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Workshop here sponsored by the 81st Regional Support Command.

More than 80 Soldiers who recently returned from combat tours gathered at a downtown hotel to learn about valuable resources available to help them transition back to civilian life with their families and communities.

Kratzer listened to seminars ranging from managing finances to effective communication with spouses and visited with representatives from agencies such as the United Service Organization. But he spent the majority of his time talking with Soldiers and listening to their concerns and experiences as combat veterans.

Kratzer said his entire military career has been centered on taking care of warriors.

"I think I was very fortunate in my military life to be mentored by some great non-commissioned officers," Kratzer said. "Those non-commissioned officers taught me how to take care of Soldiers."

Kratzer specifically mentioned U.S. Army Reserve Command Sgt. Maj. Leon Caffie as a significant mentor and good friend during his military career.

When asked about the Army Reserve declaring 2009 as the Year of the NCO, Kratzer chuckled.

"Gee, I am surprised about that because Command Sgt. Maj. Leon Caffie told me that every year is the year of the NCO," he said. "I am shocked to find out this (2009) is actually it."

Kratzer said NCOs are the backbone of the Army and senior leaders recognize their importance.

"We have heard it all of our lives and it's absolutely true," he said. "It is something we have learned to have greater care and respect for."

The whole process of becoming a sergeant now is such an important, critical event recognized by the Army, Kratzer said about the NCO Induction Ceremony.

The important thing to remember, he said, is that the number of skills leaders are asking of their young NCOs has significantly increased during recent years.

"Today's NCO has to be a leader, a motivator and a counselor," he said. "I can't think of a better designation for this year than the 'Year of the NCO.'"

Migrating from military life to representing the Army Reserve as an ambassador is nothing short of exciting for Kratzer. He is able to continue as a role model and mentor to young Soldiers and their families.

He said it was always his goal as an active member of the military to take care of these heroes.

"Now that I am retired, I have this opportunity through the U.S. Army Reserve Ambassador program to continue that role."

"I think it's a primary mission for all of us to look after those who have our nation's back," he said. "I know all of the Army Reserve Ambassadors feel the same way I do. We want what is best for these men and women."

Kratzer encourages senior officers and NCOs to take a serious look at the ambassador program after they retire from service.

"What they might find is that there are a lot of things about the military they might not miss, like getting up early and physical training," he said. "But the things they will miss are the everyday interactions with Soldiers."

Kratzer said being with Soldiers is something he will always hold close and wouldn't trade for anything.

"Any day with Soldiers is a great day," he said. "This is my way to stay connected and possibly give back to all those Soldiers who supported me in my career."

Whether Kratzer is lost in a sea of thousands of Gators football fans or back at his busy campus office, he said he will always be a Soldier.

"No one can take that away from me," Kratzer said. "I want these Soldiers to be proud of who they are and what they represent. They are America's heroes."