SMA visits Fort Sill and Backbone Ball
April 8, 2010
- Preston toured new facilities built to support influx of ADA Soldiers as part of BRAC moves.
- Preston stressed education with NCOA staff, BCT staff and Soldiers.
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Fort Sill's annual Backbone Ball received top-level interest when Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston served as guest speaker during his visit of the post Friday.
Although this is Preston's first visit in a couple years, he noted similarities with activity here that he's seen at other posts.
"It's good to come back and to see all the improvements and the construction that's taken place here," he said. "As I told the Soldiers in the town hall meeting, you can't go on a post, camp or station and not see a crane or construction going on. It's good for us, and it's moving us further along to the Army we need to be for the 21st century."
His brief tour of the post included stops to talk with Soldiers, noncommissioned officers and post leaders, and opened with breakfast with Soldiers from the 434th Field Artillery Brigade.
"I had a great time this morning over at basic combat training talking with a great group of new recruits," said Preston.
Throughout his tour of post, the Army's top senior enlisted member discussed some command messages he wanted to share with Soldiers, one of these being education. Preston noted some of the new recruits were very well educated including some with master's degrees. And, while he asked of their reasons for enlisting and their aspirations for their service time, he said the Army is committed to provide professional development education sooner in Soldiers' careers.
Preston mentioned young Soldiers can easily spend up to two years in the preparation, execution and return from deployments and not gain any formal education during that time.
"That's what NCOs have asked us for, and it's inline with an Army Training Leadership Development study done in years past; now it's coming to fruition," he said.
He said during his travels around the Army he's noticed team leader positions, a job normally filled by sergeants, being filled by privates first class who were responsible for two to four privates. Despite this experience gap, he said the young Soldiers are doing a great job.
"They're going to get promoted because they're smart and good at what they do," said Preston, who added the Warrior Leader Course was recently updated with leadership tasks from the old Basic NCO Course to better prepare younger Soldiers for leadership roles. "We want to get those sharp, young Soldiers into the Warrior Leader Course, get them trained and better prepared to step into leadership roles."
He added the Army's recent refinement of NCO leadership courses and the creation of the Advanced Leader Course and Senior Leader Course are already producing the kind of adaptive, agile and competent leaders the Army set out to develop. The change began under the auspices of the Year of the NCO with the intent to enhance the capabilities of NCOs and provide commanders better enlisted leaders at all levels.
"The feedback we've received has been very positive," said Preston. "We've had a number of PFCs who've been distinguished honor graduates at the Warrior Leadership Course, they will be the future sergeants major and command sergeants major of the Army."
Preston also met with drill sergeants and other leaders immediately after his breakfast. He said the time with these Army professionals helped him better understand their demands and challenges. He said he was on the lookout for any trends they've noticed, either good or bad, with the intent to continue to make things better for this key cadre and their vital mission of developing new Soldiers.
While on the basic combat training side of the post, Preston also stopped in to view training at the situational training exercise lanes and the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000. He concluded this portion of the post seeing new Soldiers take a significant step closer to graduations as they were learning to zero their weapons.
Following lunch at the Guns and Rockets Dining Facility, the afternoon portion featured talks at the Air Defense Artillery campus, the Joint Fires Observer Course and the Joint Fires and Effects Trainer System. Preston then spoke to more than 750 Soldiers and answered their questions during a town hall meeting in Snow Hall.
"I like doing these sessions as there's some specific command messages I wanted to get out and talk about, such as the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program," he said. "I want to make sure everybody understands what the commander's intent is for this program, where we're going with it and what the expectations are for Soldiers, NCOs and leaders."
He said the new initiative is a holistic program featuring five dimensions of strength: spiritual, emotional, physical, social and family. Because the Army demands a lot of Soldiers both in combat and in their assigned military occupational specialties, Preston said the physical aspect is well embraced throughout the Army. He added the challenge is to apply the same rigor and resiliency training applied to physical training to the other four dimensions to build strength for Soldiers, Army civilians and their families.
Preston spoke of another opportunity that exists to develop Soldiers online. He said Soldiers could spend about one hour each week on self-development courses learning aspects of the Master Fitness Training Course and basic writing skills for their Army duties, both of which would produce a better Soldier for their units and commanders.
Moving on to other topics, Preston spoke of initiatives by the Army chief of staff and the secretary of the Army to put the Army back into balance. He mentioned Army growth and transformation and what's being done to provide more predictability and stability for Soldiers and their families.
Having pushed for a move back to 12-month deployments from a previously 15-month tour, Preston said there is a greater sense of improved morale across the Army.
Although the plus-up going in Afghanistan has contributed to more Soldiers deployed than were out during the height of the Surge in Iraq, Preston pointed to increased dwell time for units that have returned home.
"Because of the growth and expansion of units and organizations, we've got units out there now with close to 18 months of dwell time between deployments," he said. "The difference between 12 and 18 months is huge."
He added the Army chief of staff's goal is a 1-to-2 ratio between deployment time and home station dwell time by the end of next year, and that about 70 percent of the active-duty force will be there.
As for Guard and Reserve Soldiers, that goal ratio increases to 1-to-4 years.
Preston said he was looking forward to the ball and sharing some vignettes he had on leaders such as Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006 and later awarded the Medal of Honor.
He also mentioned talking about his visits with 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery when they were in Djibouti and another trip to Kosovo, where he met up with artillerymen assigned to 1st Battalion, 144th Field Artillery. He said they were doing a phenomenal job at Gate One, one of the principle border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia.
Preston was also prepared to talk about his visit with Air Defense Artillery personnel this winter in Washington, D.C., doing homeland security and what he called some pretty incredible things. Despite heavy snowfall throughout the area, Preston said these Soldiers were ready to go every minute of the day.