FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (June 25, 2009) - Early in our history, the United States had to grow a military that was able to fight for and protect the liberties that we wanted to have as a people and a nation. Many different strategies and techniques were utilized, but it was not until the inception of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps that our military evolved into a more adaptive, agile, mobile and efficient enough force to support and defend our United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.

Because of the constant sacrifice and commitment of these men and women, our United States Army has designated 2009 as the "Year of the Noncommissioned Officer." NCOs are considered the backbone of the Army and are often times the contributing factor to the success or failure of an individual, and most importantly an organization within the military. Let's look at a few examples why these individuals are and were so critical to the overall maturity and success of our military organizations, this nation, and most importantly, myself.

From my most recent assignment as the executive officer for the 369th Signal Battalion, I attribute the success of that organization to the NCOs whom I had the pleasure to work with during my tenure. Being an XO for the largest Advanced Individual Training battalion in the Army - consisting of more than 1,900 Soldiers without any primary staff officers - exemplifies the critical roles these NCOs held.

None of these NCOs were ever in the spotlight, but what they did administratively and logistically to prepare the battalion and five subordinate companies for success was noteworthy. Within the five companies and three separate schoolhouses, NCOs served as instructors, coaches, mentors and disciplinarians for our most precious asset: our sons and daughters. There was not a day that went by that these NCOs did not make an impact on the training that transformed these young men and women into physically fit and mentally tough Signal Corps Soldiers ready to make an immediate impact to their first unit of assignment.

Even though these NCOs did a fantastic job, I would be totally remiss if I did not give credit where credit is due. Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald L. Tyce was truly the catalyst that held the organization together with his hard-nosed but fair form of leadership derived from 27 years of dedicated service to the Army in various assignments. He set the standard, made certain everyone understood the standard and then did the hardest part of all - he held everyone to that standard. This is the way that our military organization performs each and every day.

Now, let's take a look even higher in the military structure and see why our organizations have so much success. As we look at our Army as a whole, we find so many senior leaders providing guidance and input to drive improvements and opportunities for our Soldiers' benefit. We as a nation must recognize and also thank all of the sergeants major of the Army that have lobbied and fought behind the scenes and with Congress on our behalf. These individuals are the tip of the spear for the NCO and consistently push to make our Army better through post reforms and Soldier entitlements. They continually look at innovative ways to ensure our NCOs never forget their legacy and heritage as "the backbone of the Army."

Each of the first two examples are nice, but the most important contribution that NCOs have had and why they are so imperative is because of what they have made of me during the 19 years I have served in the Army. I reflect back to when I was a private in Basic Combat Training at Fort Dix, N.J., and how a group of men who called themselves drill sergeants, whom later I learned were NCOs, turned a young Georgia lad into an Soldier.

And later, while serving as a wire systems installer, I frequently recalled words of wisdom from 1st Sgt. Clessie Simmons, "Not everything and/or everyone you consider hard is out to hurt you nor everyone or everything that comes easy is there to help you."

Each NCO I have met has provided me with something that helped guide me through my Army career. Some of the lessons and words of wisdom were harder to accept and digest than others.

However, through the dedicated efforts of all those NCOs, I am a success. I truly understand that the NCO provides the support and structure for the Army just like our anatomical backbone provides our bodies with continual support and structure despite any degree of discomfort.

Look back at these few examples and you can see the importance of the NCO. The NCO Corps has shaped, molded and provided each organization I have served in with outstanding leadership. This has lead to nothing but success. I am proud that our Army has designated 2009 as the "Year of the NCO" because in my mind they have earned that right and so much more.

Editor's note: Maj. Frank D. McKinnis is a student in the Command and General Staff College's Intermediate Level Education Program.