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As the Army took time to celebrate its 234th birthday this month, we also continue to celebrate the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer.

The Army's birthday is a great opportunity to recognize the NCO Corps' contributions through the generations and to pay tribute to the indispensable roles NCOs continue to play as the "backbone of the Army" in every aspect of Army life.

Since 1775, the NCO Corps has distinguished itself through leadership, professionalism, commitment, courage and dedication. It is comprised of trained, adaptable, self-sacrificing professionals who have earned the admiration of both the officer and enlisted ranks. From the time a Soldier enters the Army until the time he or she leaves this profession, the NCO is there every step of the way to guide Soldiers and help them navigate any situation with their professionalism, competence and caring.

The NCO Corps is the reason behind our success on the battlefield today and on battlefields of the past.

During the American Revolution, the very first NCOs were known as file-closers. Back then our Army fought in long lines. The way you won a battle was to break the other side's line and then charge the disorganized soldiers with bayonets.

It was NCOs who kept our lines steady and enforced discipline during combat. In fact, it was the Army's first inspector general in 1778 during the cold days of Valley Forge who called NCOs "the backbone of the Army."

So, we carry on a tradition first defined in the earliest years of the American Army's history.

When tactics changed and we no longer fought in those long lines, formations of Soldiers wheeled and rallied on the colors. As that became the central point of the battle, the job was transferred from an officer to the color sergeant, who had a guard of corporals around the colors. That tradition lives on today when a color guard posts the nation's flag during our ceremonies.

And, those are just two examples.

Throughout the Army's history, whenever tactics or technologies have changed, whether from horses to tanks or from jeeps to HMMWVS [high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles], the role of NCO has also changed. As the battlefield became more and more decentralized and complex, NCOs have stepped up and taken on more leadership duties.

This change in roles has come into clearer focus since the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Our enemies know they have no hope of surviving a head-to-head battle with our army, so instead they specialize in attacking small teams, convoys and isolated outposts. That means NCOs are often the senior leaders during those types of encounters. The trust and confidence held in our NCOs has never stood firmer.

In addition, today's NCOs serve as positive, community role models. From a drill sergeant's long hours in the training base to the disregard for personal safety from a squad leader in battle, NCOs' tireless efforts to achieve the nation's goals set a daily example of commitment to service for us all.

On this 234th birthday, the American NCO is a walking example of a proud and professional Army built on dedication, patriotism and sacrifice.