For the Japanese, it’s the Year of the Ox, but runners at Camp Zama on Friday were celebrating the U.S. Army’s Year of the NCO.

All of Zama’s noncommissioned officers put their best feet forward on the early morning route from the Yano Fitness Center to Zama American High School, around the Zama Club and through the general’s building.

Army Secretary Pete Geren announced in October that 2009 would be the Year of the NCO, celebrating the service’s noncommissioned officers. Besides events honoring enlisted leaders, Geren said, the Army would be enhancing NCO training and showcasing the NCO corps story for civilians and military family members.

"It certainly comes at a good time in our Army careers, because what our civilian leaders, our politicians and our general officers are finding out is the enormous asset that we are," Camp Zama Command Sgt. Maj. William Franklin said of the yearlong observance.

After the run, Zama soldiers shared opinions about the NCO culture and NCOs’ roles in developing leaders.

Sgt. Dianne Peele said the responsibility is theirs to bring young soldiers fresh from their families and homes into the Army fold.

"You have to kind of be there to guide them. You have to train them, keep them physically fit, teach them about finances. It’s really important," Peele said. "As an NCO, you’re actually a leader and guardian of someone’s son or daughter."

Staff Sgt. Brian Quinn agreed.

"It’s a lot more mentoring — not only in their mission but their personal life," Quinn said. "It’s almost like fatherhood. … Sometimes it feels that way."

Franklin said Zama’s upcoming activities include dinner out for all the NCOs, joint events with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, and NCO inductions and leadership classes. He said he thinks it’s a privilege to participate in the year’s observances with Zama’s current crop of NCOs, adding that many of the sergeants joined the Army following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Many of my peers will tell you that our younger soldiers, our noncommissioned officers, are not as dedicated or as good as we were at that age. They are 10 times better than we were," Franklin said. "I’m going to retire and leave our Army in good hands."

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