FORT LEWIS, Wash. - More than 550 Soldiers and their families celebrated 234 years of Army history at the I Corps and Fort Lewis Army Ball June 11 at the American Lake Community Center.

"Here at Fort Lewis, as we prepare to send out five brigades over the next six to seven months, it's important that we come together as a true Team Lewis and celebrate our Army's birthday," said Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Barnes, garrison command sergeant major.

Beyond that, according to Barnes, 2009's designation as the "Year of the Noncommissioned Officer" made this a special occasion to recognize those called "the backbone of the Army."

The evening was particularly memorable for two Soldiers. Brigadier Gen. Jeff Mathis III, I Corps deputycommanding general and acting commanding general of Fort Lewis announced this year's I Corps NCO and Soldier of the Year: Staff Sgt. Frank Csaszar, 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade; and Spc. Michael Farrington, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

"It's the best accomplishment I've had since joining the Army," Csaszar said about being recognized as NCO of the Year.

Two years ago Csaszar was inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. He credited that process with helping prepare him for this year's NCO of the Year competition.

"As a (SAMC) member, you try to set the highest of standards, and make all of your Soldiers know why you're setting those standards," he said.

Csaszar and Farrington received Army Commendation Medals from Mathis.

The keynote speaker for the ball was Brace E. Barber, president and chief executive officer of Decipherst, Inc. Barber, along with former Army NCO Jamin Micarelli, founded the armor technology company, which boasts of developing the first helmet to stop an AK-47 round. Barber is a former Army Ranger and wrote the book, "No Excuse Leadership, Lessons From the U.S. Army's Elite Rangers."

"I'm honored to be able to add my voice in appreciation to what the NCOs have done throughout the Army's history and what they continue to do," Barber said.

NCOs, he said, are a critical part of the Army.

"NCOs are fundamental to the success of the Army and to the ongoing reputation and high regard that each NCO is held to throughout the world," he said.

"NCOs have to make it real on the ground," Barber said.

Barber credited NCOs with making him into the successful leader he is today.

The Army's 234-year history is steeped in tradition, and the Streamer Ceremony held at the ball carried on one of the longest-lasting traditions. The 555th Engineer Brigade carried in 14 sets of streamers, representing 14 periods of armed action by the Army. Each bearer was dressed in a period uniform, beginning with the Revolutionary War. The final bearer was dressed in the current Army Combat Uniform.

The Army Ball was also a time of remembrance for those Soldiers who could not be present; an empty chair and table with a rose, a candle, a shaker of salt and a lemon were dedicated to their sacrifices.

The empty chair symbolized their inability to attend; the rose signified their shed blood; the candle represented their ultimate sacrifice; the shaker of salt was for the tears of those who awaited their return; and the lemon represented their bitter fate.

Spc. Aaron Carpenter is assigned to 28th Public Affairs Detachment. The story appeared in Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.