SMA Preston addresses MDW Soldiers
March 25, 2010
By Alex McVeigh
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston came to Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Spates Community Club March 12, to speak to members of the Military District of Washington Sgt. Audie Murphy Club. The club, named after one of the Army's most decorated World War II Soldiers, provides exemplary NCOs around the region an opportunity to serve the community around them. Preston took the opportunity to share his thoughts on a few issues facing the Army, its Soldiers and its Families, as well as answer any questions the Soldiers had.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Williams, Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington, welcomed the more than 40 Soldiers in attendance, who came from JBM-HH, but also places like Fort Meade, Md., Fort Belvoir and the White House Communications Agency. Preston started off by breaking down how the Army is using its force, the 554,000 active duty Soldiers, the 362,000 National Guardsmen and the 372,000 in the reserves.
He credited the National Guard and the reserves especially, saying, "What we do as a nation and as an Army would not be possible without the diverse skills they bring to help ease the strain." He spoke about a topic that was relevant to all Soldiers today: deployments. The stress that comes before, during and after deployments is stressful in many ways, Preston said.
"When your unit is deployed for 12-15 months, you're in a combat zone, which is inherently stressful, you're operational 24/7," Preston said. "Then when you come back for your 12 months of dwell time, it's not like you spend that time eating popcorn and watching TV."
The first 90 days are spent normalizing schedules, doing normal PT and working Monday through Friday, he said, and in the second 90 days, things pick up. There are changes of command, and "getting a new boss is inherently stressful."
Preston addressed the common question brought to him by Soldiers, namely, why does the Army deploy for 12 to 15 months when other branches do four, six and eight months' According to Preston, the Army started growing in January 2004. Previously, from 1992 to 1994, the Army dropped the troop count by 300,000 after the Gulf War.
"You can chop down 300,000 trees pretty quickly, but how long does it take them to grow back'" Preston asked, illustrating the difficult process of growth with an organization as large as the Army. By the summer of 2007, the Army had 38 Brigade Combat Teams supporting the Iraq mission. Since at any given time about 20 BCTs had to be in Iraq, it meant a "50 percent fade" meaning that these BCTs were alternating in and out of theater.
"We had a choice between 12 months boots on the ground and eight months off, or 15 months on the ground and 12 months off," Preston said.
By having more down time, Soldiers have more time to get re-adjusted, normalize schedules and fit in training, which Preston called "a first sergeant's and sergeant major's dream." Preston answered a few questions about professional development and promotion cycles before he left, and he took time to make a special request of the Soldiers of the SAMC.
"[Early in your career], you're focused on yourself, but now, focus on being the best Soldier you can be. Be the best at PT, become a [subject matter expert] on your equipment," Preston said. "When you know everything to be, know and do, then you're ready to help make your units and your Soldiers better."