Longest-serving SMA says goodbye
February 7, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 7, 2011) -- The longest-serving sergeant major of the Army emphasized the importance of maintaining an adaptable force during a farewell interview today at the Pentagon.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston has served as the top enlisted adviser for seven years, from January 2004 until next month. He faced several key challenges when he first arrived, but said he feels the Army has advanced through properly manning, equipping and training the force.
"If you look at the Army at that time, we were in Iraq and Afghanistan at that time, we were tied up with fighting two wars," Preston explained. "It was pretty significant to have large numbers of Soldiers forward-deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan. That was the first piece, just the size and the demand on the Army.
"The focus coming in here was manning, training, and equipping and making sure our Soldiers had the best equipment, the best training, and had the right skill sets and had the right number of people in their units and organizations for the mission they were being asked to do," Preston said.
Preston feels that the Army has achieved those initial goals and gone beyond to greater successes. The Army has grown in size and transformed to a modular force.
"The whole transformation of the Army, in my mind, has been the biggest accomplishment that's really taken place since 2004," he said.
The manning of the Army has grown by about 100,000 Soldiers over the course of Preston's career, and equipping has advanced greatly - the SMA compared the uniforms and equipment from 2004 to today's and said it's like looking at pictures of the modern Soldier compared with Soldiers from the Korean War. Training has also been made more relevant by incorporating lessons-learned and providing professional military education geared at supporting an Army at war, he said.
"We've taken an Army that was the best Army in the world and taken it to a whole new level."
Preston joined the Army just out of high school, hoping for the opportunity to get away from his small hometown in western Maryland. He served as a cavalry scout and tank commander during his 35-year career and as the command sergeant major for the Combined Joint Force Task Force 7 in Baghdad, Iraq, before taking the position as SMA.
He advised his successor, Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond F. Chandler III, to command and learn the Army from an historical perspective. Once in the position of SMA, there is a plethora of information and historical files to help understand the decision-making processes that led the Army to where it is today in terms of manning, equipping and training the force, Preston said.
Understanding the historical information will be essential to keep the Army from making the same mistakes twice, he added.
"Learn where we were in 2004, learn how, and why we evolved to where we are today, because this will really help in understanding not only where we've been and where we are today, but where we want to continue to strive for the future," Preston said.
Preston also encouraged NCOs to be the subject-matter experts in their field, and advised them to take and use every opportunity to teach.
"The most valuable contribution that any senior non-commissioned officer can give back to his or her Soldiers is to be a teacher," he said.
"I like to joke around with a lot of the young Soldiers: 'I don't know what I'm going to do when I grow up,'" Preston said.
He plans to return home to Maryland, "back to the farm," to determine what the next chapter in his life will be.