FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 24, 2011) -Twenty-two Fort Lee Soldiers were officially welcomed to the Army noncommissioned officer ranks during a Feb. 15 ceremony at the Post Field House.

Command Sgt. Maj. James K. Sims, 49th Quartermaster Group CSM, presided over the NCO induction that serves as a "rite of passage" into the Army's hard-stripe leadership ranks.

"Today's ceremony is rich with tradition. It celebrates the duties of promoted sergeants in the Noncommissioned Officer Corps. It emphasizes and builds on the pride we share as members of that group," said guest speaker Command Sgt. Maj. Willie C. Tennant Sr., 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command CSM.

"This step will validate your new role in the Army," Tennant continued. "You are no longer an enlisted Soldier; you are a noncommissioned officer. You are now responsible for Soldiers; you are not their buddy, but their leader. A noncommissioned officer must be an innovative and competent leader who trains and motivates Soldiers."

During the ceremony, the inductees passed under the raised swords of the noncommissioned officers corps, a symbolic maneuver that represented their crossing of the threshold of leadership. A cake cutting at the conclusion of the event also held significance. The participants included Sims, Tennant and the youngest inductee, Sgt. Vonderek Casteel, and it symbolized the passing of knowledge and experience from old to new.

Each of the newly inducted NCOs received a copy of the NCO guide, the noncommissioned officers charge and the NCO creed bearing the signature of the inductee and the 49th Group CSM.

"This ceremony made me proud to be an NCO," said Sgt. Nicholas Lamar, one of the inductees. "I was glad that CSM Sims felt that my promotion was as important to him as it was to me. I am ready to accept all of the responsibilities that come with being a noncommissioned officer."

The ceremony also made an impact on the NCO hopefuls in attendance.

"I want my sergeant to train me so that one day I too can be called a noncommissioned officer," said 49th Group Soldier, Spc. Mark Ruffin. "I want them to train me to accept responsibilities and show me the right ways to train my Soldiers to be the greatest defenders of freedom in the world."

That train of thought is key, Sims observed during the event. As leaders, NCOs must prove themselves worthy of the rank of sergeant.

"This is a huge responsibility because how you lead your Soldiers will not only influence their lives but also the lives of their families," he told the inductees. "The Army has now put a special trust in all of you, and with your potential, character, drive and leadership you can go down range and come back with your Soldiers safe. Today, I am extremely proud to uphold you to the NCO charge and call you an NCO."