FORT MYER, Va. (Army News Service, May 20, 2009) -- As part of the Army's continued celebration of the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, senior Army leaders Tuesday recognized 10 members of the 111th Congress who have served as NCOs.

In a ceremony on Whipple Field, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston paid tribute to the 10 representatives in attendance, as well as four others not in attendance and three senators who served as NCOs.

Members of the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" played a brief pre-ceremony concert before Soldiers from The Old Guard marched onto the Whipple Field carrying the 50 state flags, as well as the six flags from United States territories.

The official party of Geren, Casey, Preston and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Texas) arrived after the ceremonial units were set. After they performed the dressing sequence, Command Sgt. Maj. David Martel, The Old Guard command sergeant major, took the official party and the representatives on the traditional inspection of the troops.

Each congressman was given a token of appreciation from Geren, as well as a coin from Preston.

Preston, speaking first, thanked all the veterans in the audience.

"[The] members of Congress who are here today began a lifetime of service to our nation as noncommissioned officers in the United States Army," Preston said. "As we celebrate 2009 as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, we all know that the noncommissioned officer corps was not formed overnight ... and our army today is the best Army in the world because of the competence of these mid-level leaders."

Casey opened up his remarks by thanking all NCOs present, particularly Julius W. Gates, Richard A. Kidd, Jack L. Tilley, and Gene C. McKinney, each of whom retired as the sergeant major of the Army. Casey credited the NCOs he knew for helping him to become the officer he is today, and said he believed that all officers owe a debt to an NCO.

"Any officer out here will tell you ... that they are the officer that they are today, because there was a noncommissioned officer behind them every step of the way," Casey said. "To some extent, all of us stand on the shoulders of great noncommissioned officers, and it's especially appropriate to remember that today, as we honor these men."

Geren also gave credit to the honorees, as the lessons they learned as NCOs led them to dedicate their lives to serving the country, long after they stopped wearing the Army uniform.

"We recognize our honorees this evening because before they took the oath of office as members of Congress, they protected and defended the constitution of the United States as noncommissioned officers," Geren said. "At the front of every mission, here or overseas, you'll find a noncommissioned officer. NCOs lead the way in education, training and discipline, and they share their strength of character with every Soldier they lead, every officer they support and every civilian with whom they serve."

The ceremony concluded with a pass in review, as each unit passed in front of the official party as the crowd of more than 50 Soldiers and civilians applauded. The Army Band put the finishing touches on the ceremony by playing the Army song, which the audience sung along to.

The theme of the evening was best described by the top noncommissioned officer in the United States Army, the sergeant major of the Army.

"If you see a veteran, please thank them for their service. America is deeply in their debt. I could not be more proud than I am today to be called a Soldier and to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and your Families," Preston said. "Together we are, and always will be, America's Army, the strength of the nation."

(Alex McVeigh writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)