WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 29, 2009) -- The Army's top noncommissioned officer helped Walter Reed Army Medical Center celebrate the centennial of its opening and the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer by leading an early-morning formation run Tuesday.

"Happy 100th birthday!" said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston to Soldiers and staff who assembled around him following the run.

"Hooah!" was the loud response he got back from the group.

"I am proud of all of you," Preston said. "I speak on behalf of not only the chief of staff of the Army and the secretary of the Army, but [also on] behalf of all the senior leadership at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill, as well as the president of the United States, when I say, 'Thank you for what you do for not only all of our servicemembers and our warriors, but also for what you do for our nation.

"Your reputation and what you bring as an institution to our country, really is [indicative] of all of the things that are good about our nation, and what we want to provide to all of our warriors," he said.

Preston spoke of teamwork, and how the military is "more joint now than it has ever been in its history," with all branches of services not only working together, but also working with people and militaries from other countries.

Much of this work is being done by noncommissioned officers, which is why the Army is celebrating the Year of the NCO, and recognizing the contributions of past and present NCOs across all of the services, Preston said.

He explained that the Year of the NCO encompasses not only recognition of former and current NCOs and their accomplishments, but also informing the public of those contributions.

"We encourage Soldiers everyday, to tell [their] stories. Every opportunity you get when you go back to Hometown U.S.A., no matter where you're from, tell the servicemember's story. Talk about not only of what you do every day in your occupational specialties, but also talk about your contributions to your units and organizations [wherever] you served or are deployed around the world."

The Year of the NCO also focuses on enhanced training and capabilities of noncommissioned officers, and building better leaders, Preston said. "We want to be able to provide our commanders an even greater asset for Soldiers and NCOs on the ground."

Preston also spoke of meeting with President Barack Obama and the other senior enlisted advisers from the other services earlier this year. "It was an open and candid discussion." He said the president wanted to know the concerns of servicemembers, and to get "the unvarnished truth."

"From an Army perspective, I had a chance to talk about those things that keep me awake at night and add stress on the force," Preston said. "We talked about [Soldiers] deploying into combat, spending a year to 15 months with boots on the ground, and then coming back from that deployment."

Preston said other topics discussed with Obama included health care, operations tempo, family moves, military children, the effects of the economy on servicemembers, post traumatic stress, suicide and sexual assault.

"But I said it's not all bad," Preston added. "From an Army perspective, servicemembers wouldn't continue to re-enlist and serve along with their families if it wasn't for the command climate of our organizations, if they didn't continue to believe in the missions that they were doing, if they didn't continue to want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and if they didn't want to continue to be part of [our] Band of Brothers and Sisters."

"Everyone in this entire organization is Walter Reed, and to have this being the centennial year and the Year of the NCO is significant," said Walter Reed Health Care System Command Sgt. Maj. Rodolfo Delvalle. "We had about 800 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and civilians, to include folks from the Red Cross with us today. This is a true testament that WE are Walter Reed."

Walter Reed General Hospital opened its doors May 1, 1909, to its first official patients.

"There was no ceremony, no dedication and no fanfare," said Walter Reed historian Sherman Fleek. "Medical treatment and care commenced quietly."

The monthly return (status report) for the hospital's first month of service recorded a staff of five officers, 62 enlisted hospital corpsmen, three civilian employees and 19 patients.

Walter Reed hospital was named in honor of Maj. Walter Reed, the Army physician who in 1900 led the team that confirmed the theory that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes, rather than by direct contact.

According to Dr. John R. Pierce, historian for the Walter Reed Society and former deputy commander of clinical services and director of medical education, this insight gave impetus to the new fields of epidemiology and biomedicine, which he discusses in a book he co-authored about yellow fever and the role of the Army, specifically that of Maj. Reed in its conquest.

(Bernard Little serves as command information officer for Walter Reed Army Medical Center.)