JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. - Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Johnson accepted the noncommissioned officer sword from Col. Craig A. Osborne, commander, 174th Infantry Brigade, during a change of responsibility ceremony held at Sharp Field here Nov. 4.

The tradition of the sword ritual signifies the transition of changing the senior enlisted advisor of the brigade. The role of the command sergeant major, the highest ranking noncommissioned officer of a unit, has distinguished lineage. Dating back to the 15th century, the command sergeant major duties and responsibilities were similar to those of a chief of staff in today's Army divisions. Current competencies of the 21st century command sergeant major - the backbone of the Army - are outlined in the Army Noncommissioned Officers Guide.

"To put the command sergeant major rank into perspective, less than one percent of the enlisted Army achieves the prestigious position," explained Maj. Gen. Kevin Wendel, commander, First Army Division East. "There are more individuals wearing the rank of a two-star general than that of a command sergeant major in the Army."

In keeping with tradition and rendering honors to the departing senior noncommissioned officer of the brigade, Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Zanders was recognized for his leadership and service to the Army in a pre-ceremony gathering at the Ultimate Weapon statue. Surrounded by Soldiers on all sides, Zanders was retired from the Army after more than three decades of active service. Osborne pinned the Legion of Merit on Zanders in recognition of his outstanding service, achievements and contributions to the Army during the course of his distinguished career.

"The Legion of Merit is awarded for exceptionally meritorious conduct," explained Osborne. "Command Sgt. Maj. Zanders more than deserves this recognition and the Army is a lesser place today, as it bids farewell to such a fine soldier and leader."

Zanders attributed his success and career accomplishments to the soldiers he served alongside.

"I am most proud not for what I did, but for what we did, having the opportunity to soldier for our country," said Zanders. "I'm a better man for having served with each and every one of you -- collectively we made it happen."

When Zanders spoke to the soldiers and leaders gathered, he recognized his wife, Sharon, for her support.

"Most importantly, thank you to my wife, for serving alongside me all this time, through the deployments and separations, you have always been by my side," expressed Zanders. "I wouldn't have made it to this day without you - you certainly had the toughest job in the Army."

Zanders and Sharon are planning on retiring in Hattiesburg, Miss.

In officially welcoming the new command sergeant major from his last assignment with 1st Battalion, 166th Armor Regiment out of Fort Carson, Colo., Zanders recognized Johnson as the right man for the job.

"As I pass the torch today, I know Command Sgt. Maj. Johnson and his wife, Carmen, will take on the sacred mission of training, mentoring, and caring for the soldiers and families of the brigade," ensured Zanders. "And for the last time --I stand before you as a soldier - Patriot 7 out."