Retirement ceremony of Sgt. Maj. of the Army Preston
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. speaks at the retirement ceremony of Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston at the Pentagon, March 1.

Welcome everyone. Thank you for coming out today to help us farewell a great Soldier and his lady- Ken and Karen Preston.

I'd like to welcome some of our special guests that we have with us today. General (Retired) and Secretary, Former Army Chief of Staff and now Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Rik Shinseki. Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us here today. [I would also like to welcome] our very own Secretary of the Army, John McHugh. Sitting next to him is our previous Army Secretary, Pete Geren. Pete, good to see you again and thanks for coming back. [We also have] a couple more former Army Chiefs [of Staff], Gordon Sullivan and Denny Reimer. Thanks to you all for coming out here.

I was also tipped off when I was coming in here that [Congressman] Chet and Lee Ann Edwards. Some of you know that Chet is a recovering politician. But he is a person who has done huge things to improve the quality of the lives of Soldiers and Families at Fort Hood and all across the Army. Chet, it's really great to see you. Thanks what you do for the Army. [GEN] Pete and Beth Chiarelli, it's great to see you as well as Under Secretary Westphal. I also want to thank the many four-star generals that are with us today.

I want to give a special welcome to Ken and Karen's family. Karen's dad, Herb; their children and their spouses: Kenny and Stacey, welcome; Valerie and Stephen, welcome; and I understand that Melanie has made it as well. Melanie is wife of their son, Mike. Mike had the opportunity to be here today, but decided to be with his Soldiers in Afghanistan. And I think you can understand that. The six grandchildren [are here as well]: Maddie, Logan, Addie, twins-Savannah and Noah, and Aiden. How about a big hand for all of them'


I'd like to say a special thanks to the Old Guard and the Pershing band. The pride that they feel today farewelling their senior non-commissioned officer leader is clearly evident.
Today, we pay tribute to Ken and Karen-to their tremendous leadership, and to their absolute commitment to Soldiers and Families-a commitment that they have delivered on for over 36 years.
It's been nearly 4 decades since Ken and Karen left Mount Savage, Maryland on a course that would not only change their lives ... but also the course our Army's
history. From his teenage years where he loved to work on mechanical things, to his early days in the Army working with Tanks-Ken has always been good at what he did. He learns and studies his craft and becomes the best at whatever he touches. He is a Master Gunner, a legend across our Army for his understanding of our weapon systems. He is a Master Fitness trainer. Recently, he has been working with our Master Resilience Trainers. He has even earned a Masters in Business Administration. That is the kind of tactical and technical proficiency that he has always been known for-and that is the proficiency that we want to see in our Non-Commissioned Officers-and I can tell you that Ken has led the way in that making that happen. He is the epitome of what we want our Non-Commissioned Officers in the 21st Century to be.

Ken's outlook on the world was first shaped by his family's military service. Both parents, as well as his father-in-law, had served in the military. It was that call to duty (as well as the need for a little money for college) that inspired Ken to enlist in the Army in 1975 as a Cavalry Scout.
In his career, he saw service in three of our divisions: The First Cavalry Division, 1st Armored Division, and 3rd Armored Division. He served in two of our Cavalry Regiments: the 11th ACR and the 12th Cavalry. He also served in one of our corps, V Corps, in Germany and Iraq.

From the very beginning, Ken Preston made a name for himself as an accomplished leader and model Non-Commissioned Officer. After only two years in the Army, SPC Preston was promoted to sergeant and moved to the 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division in Germany. Next, SGT Preston took his expertise to Fort Knox where he became a Master Gunner Instructor, and ultimately in Dorset, England, the British armored school.

It was during this time that he developed his passion for teaching Soldiers-a passion that has continued for over three decades.

As a platoon sergeant at Fort Knox, he led a young platoon that had responsibility for maintaining the tanks and ranges for our officer basic course-many of the Colonels and Brigadier Generals out there in the Army today probably fired their first round from SFC Preston's tank.

Later, en route to Germany and the 3ID in spring 1990, an energetic Colonel with an eye for talent snatched him to be the Regimental Master Gunner for the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Can you imagine John Abrams doing anything that'

From there, after a brief stint at the academy, Ken was promoted to Sergeant Major and went on to serve as a Sergeant Major at every level of command before he became Sergeant Major of the Army. He held command sergeant major positions at 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment; 3rd "Greywolf" Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division; 1st Armored Division and V Corps in Germany. You might have noticed that there were a few units there that I have some association with.

And that brings me to one of the best decisions I ever made. Back in 2000, I was picking a new CSM for 1st Armored Division, and I asked for the list of potential candidates. As with every Sergeant Major selection process, they brought me the names of 3 or 4 really good Sergeants Major. And it was really hard to differentiate who would work best with me. And so after a long interview I asked them all the same question, "What are you most proud of having done in your life' Not in your career, but in your life." And everyone had different answers, but Ken thought for a minute. And then he looked at me and said, "You know, what I am most proud of is my family." And I said to myself, "I can work with a guy like that." So I picked him, and we have been friends with the Prestons ever since ...

Fast forward to 2003. I was serving as the Vice Chief of Staff and one afternoon Pete Schoomaker called me in and asked, "Vice, I'm trying to figure out whom to pick as the next Sergeant Major of the Army. Do you know Ken Preston'" I said, "Well, as, a matter of fact, yes I do!" Ken Preston is the right guy to lead our Non-Commissioned Officers. He is the epitome what we want our Non-Commissioned Officers to be in the 21st Century. The rest is history.

When I returned from Iraq in 2007 to assume this job, Ken was hard at work and already having a huge impact on the Army. After I had been there a while, one day he came to me and said, "You know, it's probably time for me to step aside and give someone else a chance." To which I looked him in the eye and said, "Let's not be hasty here." And I asked him to stay me until I finished.
What he accomplished over the last seven years is to take most professional NCOs Corps in the world, and make it better. Our Army will be better for his efforts for decades to come.

As both Ken and Karen would want, we are here today to do something even larger than say farewell to them. Today, gives us a chance to thank you and to tout the accomplishments of our Non-Commissioned Officers and their Families.

Ken Preston has led the way in revamping our Non-Commissioned Officer education system to make it more viable and attuned to challenges that Non-Commissioned Officers are facing today. He worked to set up the Army Career Tracker so that every Soldier in the Army could see all the on-line and classroom courses available so they could pace their own development-and so that their officers could do that too. It is something that is not only helping the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps, but it the entire Army too.

{Four Soldiers in 1975, 1981, 2004, and 2010 Uniforms came out onto the parade field}

I don't normally do show and tell during a retirement ceremony, but I wanted to show you Ken's contributions to the changes in the way we outfit and equip have been so significant. The first Soldier represents the uniform of the Army in 1975 when Ken came in [to the Army]. The uniform the Army was wearing when Ken became the Sergeant Major of the Army was the Battle Dress Uniform. But when Ken came in, we were still wearing green uniforms and black boots. With the precision of an engineer and a capability to understand what a Soldier needs, Ken was the driving force in fielding the Army Combat Uniform and associated equipment. Not much difference between [2003] and 1975. But just to show you we never stop, and that Ken never stops trying to make it better for Soldiers, we fielded in Afghanistan just last year, a Multi-Cam Uniform and all its associated devices. The difference between that last uniform and the one on the right [2004] in the terrain of eastern Afghanistan is 50 meters [standoff before detection by the enemy] over the ACUs. That means the enemy can see our ACUs 50 meters closer. That is the difference he has made and that is why our Soldiers are the best equipped of any Army in the world.

What hasn't changed are the bedrock values and qualities of our Non-Commissioned Officers Corps. Our Non-Commissioned Officers remain committed to their Soldiers, their Army and their country. Despite the repeated deployments, they demonstrate a commitment to be a part of something larger than themselves-a band of brothers and sisters that remain Army Strong and that have provided the glue that house bound us together as an Army over the last decade of war. They remind us how lucky we are to have generation-after-generation of Soldiers who are willing to fight for this country and the ideals that it stands for.

We continue to attract and retain the finest America offers because we are committed to educating and training our Non-Commissioned Officers for increasing responsibility in today's world. Today our Non-Commissioned Officer Corps is getting the education, the equipment, and quality of life that is commensurate with the quality of their service. From the Army Family Covenant-to the Army Career Tracker-to the improvements in our combat equipment-Ken Preston has responded to the needs of our NCO leaders and their families.

Ken: You have had a huge impact, not only on the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps, but on the whole Army. And you have indeed taken the best in the world and made it better and more ready for the 21st Century. Thank you very much.

We all know that Ken wasn't the only one to come out of Mt Savage in 1975. He and his high school sweetheart have made this journey together. And today would not be complete without recognizing the role Karen that has played. I've known Karen as long as I have known Ken and she is just delightful. She is a woman of few words who gets right to the point and gets things done. She does it all with a sense of purpose and a quiet sense of humor-and a little sparkle in her eye. I've known her for ten years but I still could not quite put my finger on what keeps her going-until dinner at my house the other night. She had a little granddaughter, Maddie, across from her at the dinner table with an absolutely adoring look in her eye. Maddie was all fired up on the chocolate cake we had given her and she was the life of the party. And I looked [Karen] right in the eye and said, "Aha! [She's] sassy like her grandmother, isn't it'" She said, "Yep! That is exactly right."

From their first duty station in 1975, Karen made a difference in the lives of Soldiers and their Families. In their assignments across the army, Karen developed a reputation as a caring and thoughtful Army spouse. She is someone who could walk into a room full of Soldiers and Family members and immediately make feel immediately and completely at ease.
So Karen, Sheila and I want to thank you for what you've done over the last 36 years for Soldiers and Families. And we want you to know we have enjoyed our relationship-and want it to continue-and you will be missed.

I'd like to close on a final thought. In fact, it comes from SMA Preston himself. It's a thought he shares everywhere with the Soldiers that the speaks to. But more than anything else, I think it speaks to who he really is:

The knowledge that you gain is not solely yours to keep, but yours to take and pass on to the Soldiers of your organization. Use what you learn to teach your soldiers and make them better.

That's why we have the best Non-Commissioned Officer Corps in the world.
Ken, and Karen, Sheila and I have been proud to walk side-by-side with you across our Army over the last decade. On behalf of the Soldiers, Civilians and Families that you have served-and served so well-we thank you for making us better.

Good luck to you and God speed.

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