What a glorious, glorious day! Thank you all for coming out here and joining us ... to help us honor these magnificent noncommissioned officers ... both sitting before you here and on the field today.

A lot of folks have already been recognized. I'd like to also recognize Gordon Sullivan ... one of my predecessors, a former Chief of Staff of the Army and now head of the Association of the United States Army. Thank you very much for coming out and sharing today with us.

Twenty years ago, our Army designated 1989 as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer. It came after nearly two decades of much-needed, wide-ranging reform as our Army adjusted to the post-Vietnam era; grew into an all-volunteer force; and transformed our doctrine, weapons, structures, and institutions. Among those institutions was the Noncommissioned Officer Education System.

Nothing dramatic happened overnight. But over time, the reforms produced a restoration of noncommissioned officer professionalism that many of us in today's Army can barely fathom. I, in fact, lived through it ... as did many of you that are here today. It is just remarkable how far we came in the decades of the '70s and '80s.

We owe an immense debt of gratitude to the leaders - the noncommissioned officer leaders - that led this change ... particularly to the Sergeants Major of the Army who guided us through that period. We're privileged to have a few of them with us here today ... Sergeants Major Bill Gates ... Richard Kidd ... Gene McKinney ... and Jack Tilley. Thanks for your leadership and your service and for shaping this magnificent noncommissioned officer corps. [Applause]

We owe the same debt of gratitude to the sergeants who served during those lean years of the 1970s and who upheld the standards and traditions of the Army while our initial investment in reform took some time to bear fruit.

These are noncommissioned officers like my first platoon sergeant, then-Staff Sergeant Thomas Charo. I'll never forget him. He retired as a Sergeant Major. He taught me how to be a Soldier. He taught me how to care for Soldiers. And he taught me the role of a noncommissioned officer.

I stay in touch with him to this day. I was actually down at Fort Bragg about a few months ago. We were doing a ceremony with the local community. He lives in Fayetteville, so he came to the ceremony. I saw him standing off to the side. Since it was the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, I thought I'd improvise a little bit. So I called him over to the podium. He pretended that he didn't want the limelight - as he always did - but he loved the cameras ... I could tell. But I brought him over, and I said what I believed. I said publicly that I would not be the officer that I am today were it not for Staff Sergeant Thomas Charo. And any officer out here will tell you exactly the same thing ... that they are the officer they are today because there was a noncommissioned officer behind them every step of the way.

To some extent, all of us stand on the shoulders of great noncommissioned officers. It's especially appropriate to remember that today as we honor these men who began their careers as public servants in an Army uniform ... wearing stripes.

Now today - twenty years later - we again recognize our noncommissioned officers. Only now, we've been transforming our Cold War Army while fighting a war for over seven years. Our noncommissioned officers, more than anyone else, know the stakes involved because they're leading from the front in this struggle to preserve our way of life and to preserve our freedoms. They are the glue that has held this Army together during a very difficult period, and they are allowing us to accomplish the near-impossible every day all around the world.

They are - as the Sergeant Major said - the best in the world at what they do. I've probably met with twenty of my counterparts in the last two years. And every one of them - to a person - when I ask them, "What can I do to help you'" ... they say, "I want noncommissioned officers like yours." I say, "Well, you can't have them." Every one of them has said that. I am absolutely convinced that our noncommissioned officers and their Families are a national asset.

By answering the call to serve, our noncommissioned officers represent exactly what President Obama was talking about in his inaugural address when he held the men and women of the armed forces up to the American people as an example of selfless service.

Just to remind you, here's what he said: "As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are the guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service - a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all."

We should take pride in the fact that our noncommissioned officers - past and present - through their courage, their commitment, and their sacrifices - personify a spirit of service to country. And our honorees today continue a tradition of service they began as Soldiers and noncommissioned officers.

So to our honorees, we thank you for your continuing support of the men and women of our armed forces, and we thank you for your continuing service to this great country. We are proud to count you as our own. Army Strong!