FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The Army's top noncommissioned officer said Soldiers' "dwell time" between combat deployments is increasing as the Army begins its most in-depth transformation since World War II.

That was just one of several topics that Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston spoke about during a daylong visit to Fort Jackson on Tuesday, which included his lecture about critical issues facing the Army at the Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude Leadership Lecture Series in the Solomon Center.

The Maude lecture series is meant to inspire young Soldiers to become strong leaders in the Army.

Preston, who recently spoke with President Obama about issues facing the Army and is the Army chief of staff's personal adviser on all enlisted-related matters, also said the Army is making a concerted effort to improve the mental health of Soldiers and reduce suicides.

Preston, who devotes the majority of his time traveling throughout the Army observing training and talking to Soldiers and families, said the most common question he hears is about the amount of dwell time between deployments.

At the height of the Iraqi troop surge, Soldiers routinely deployed for 15 months and could expect to be home for 12 months before going on another deployment.

But Preston said changes being made to the Army mean that the amount of dwell time is increasing. He said that can be attributed to the Army's Strategic Imperatives, which include sustaining the all-volunteer force through recruiting and retention and transforming the Army into what he described as a "modular force" -- one in which active Army, Reserve and National Guard units are interchangeable.

The Army has also grown significantly in recent years and will add as many as 22,000 new Soldiers in the next few years, meaning units should be fully manned. This means Soldiers should have more time to spend with their families in between deployments, Preston said.

"This will result in more stability and predictability for Soldiers and families," he said. Emphasis on Comprehensive Army Fitness is meant to help Soldiers cope with stress, Preston said, and is part of the Army's efforts to reduce suicides. The program focuses on improving fitness in the five most important parts of Soldiers' lives: physical, mental, spiritual, social and family fitness.

"It's about helping Soldiers build resilience in each of those five categories," he said. "That's what makes the individual Army Strong."

Preston started his day at Fort Jackson by attending a change of responsibility ceremony in which Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King became the first female commandant of the Drill Sergeant School.

Preston praised King for her abilities as an NCO and said she deserved the assignment. "She's got the credentials, she's got the experience," Preston said.

Preston also spoke with Advanced Individual Training Soldiers from the 369th Adjutant General Battalion and urged them to become NCOs themselves and consider making the Army a career.

"Study and learn your profession," Preston told the Soldiers. "Be a good Soldier and be an expert in your profession. I want you to be proud of your decision to be a Soldier. Now I want you to aspire to be an NCO."

Preston became the 13th Sergeant Major of the Army in 2004. He has held a variety of leadership positions throughout his 34-year career ranging from cavalry scout to command sergeant major.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16