By Spc. Rick Rzepka
1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – Webster's Dictionary defines "invertebrate" as lacking in strength or vitality or as an animal without a backbone. The Army defines the Non-commissioned Officer Corps as the backbone of the Army and without it, the organization would resemble a jellyfish.
Twenty-nine Soldiers crossed the professional threshold into the corps of non-commissioned officers, Jan. 12, 2008.
The 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, held an induction ceremony at the Speicher theatre here to mark a Soldier's right of passage from the enlisted into the NCO ranks.
"NCOs have a tough, demanding, but very rewarding job," said Command Sgt. Maj. Lester Stephens, 426th BSB. "You are in the best position to secure the trust and confidence of Soldiers by leading by example," he said to the newly inducted sergeants. The NCO corps is the strength and heart of our great organization and is the stabilizer and force of our army, said Stephens.
The tradition of commemorating the passing of a Soldier to a non-commissioned officer
is traced to the Army of Fredrick the Great. Before a Soldier could be recognized in the
full status of a NCO, he was required to stand four watches, one every four days. At the
first watch the private Soldiers appeared and claimed a gift of bread and brandy. The company NCOs came to the second watch for beer and tobacco, and the first sergeant
reserved his visit for the third watch, when he was presented with a glass of wine and a piece of tobacco on a tin plate.
Today, NCO induction ceremonies are typically without the libations, but they still hold the same symbolic importance as those which preceded them.
During the ceremony three candles are lit, which represent the three parts of the NCO creed. The red, white and blue candles are symbolic of the nation's flag as well as the sacrifice of the NCOs who have given their lives in defense of democracy.
It's like a right of passage, said Sgt. Matthew Slater, security platoon team leader, who was an inductee in the ceremony. "It was a very prestigious event and I was honored to be able to go through that," he said.
Over time, the role of the NCO has evolved from primarily a disciplinary position to a more rounded function that is considered the backbone of today's modern Army.
An NCO means making sure Soldiers are trained to standard and are capable of meeting the demands of war, said Sgt. Jessica Miller, 1st BCT paralegal who was also recently inducted into the NCO corps. The NCO, especially in the war we are in now, is the keeper of Army standards, she said.
"A pat on the back applied at the proper moment can have a dramatic influence in a developing leader," said former Sgt. Maj. of the Army William G. Bainbridge.