FORT HOOD, Texas - The Army's senior-most noncommissioned officer recently took the opportunity to meet with 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston began his Aug. 4 visit here by riding horses with the 1st Cav. Div. command sergeant major and the First Team's brigade command sergeants major at the Horse Cavalry Detachment stables. After his ride, Preston ate breakfast with 1st Cav. Div. Soldiers at the Horse Cavalry Detachment's Farrier building.

Preston also took a trip to the First Team's 3rd Brigade Combat Team to see recovery and maintenance operations conducted by the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment. Once these operations were complete, he ate lunch with 12 Soldiers at the 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div. dining facility.

"I'm very proud of you and you should all be very proud of what you've accomplished here," said Preston as he began speaking with the First Team troopers, then he stated the purpose of his visit which was to address their concerns and dispel "some of the latest rumors."

Among those concerns, these First Team Soldiers, who will soon be deploying to Iraq later this year and early next year, asked Preston about deployments and dwell time---the amount of time they spend home between deployments. Currently, Soldiers are spending a ratio of one year of dwell time for each year of deployment time.

"We're working on dwell time and after the next deployment, you're going to see an increase in dwell time," Preston said. "We're starting to grow the Army, but you can't just flick a switch and grow an organized Army overnight."

He explained that growing the Army to 30,000 troops will take a little more time but as the Army grows, dwell time for troops will increase.

"As the structure continues to grow...we'll be able to increase dwell time to a one to two ratio (with a year of deployment time to two years of dwell time)," Preston said.

Eventually as the Army achieves its target strengths, the ideal goal that the Army hopes to reach will be one year of deployment time to three years of dwell time, according to Preston.

One of the Soldiers present during Preston's visit raised his concerns about a rumor he heard that there would not be a pay raise for the military next year.

"There will definitely be a pay raise in January," said Preston, clearing up the rumor for the young trooper.

Preston also explained during his visit that although a lot of progress was made during the Operation Iraqi Freedom surge, there is still work to be done in Iraq.

"We'll continue to work toward providing a safe and secure environment at the national level, provincial level and in the cities and towns-all levels of government," said Preston. "Much of what has to be done involves continuing to grow the Iraqi Security Forces. As the (Iraqi) police and Iraqi Army become more proficient, we will be able to start pulling people out. With the surge, as we pulled people out, the Iraqi Army moved in and took (the place of the surge troops), that's the unique thing about what's going on."

With the First Team's 4th Brigade Combat Team already in Iraq and the division's other brigades slated to have all boots on the ground there sometime early next year, Preston said he foresees the division, once they take over in the area of operations, having no problems in continuing the momentum achieved there.

"It's like football, where you have a team advancing the ball down the field and one team comes off and another team comes on and continues making progress and advancing the ball," said Preston. "The 1st Cavalry Division will pick up where the other team left off and continue advancing the ball."

During his time with the 1st Cav. Div. troopers, Preston said they should be proud of their division's history, the Army's history and the organization's diversity.

"It's interesting to see how diverse we are as an organization," he said while he also related his feelings about observing a recent combat patrol in Iraq which reminded him of the U.S. Army's diversity-something seldom seen in other armies around the globe. "As an outsider, I watched the patrol move down the street and hundreds of people would turn to look at the Soldiers doing that patrol and they would see all ethnicities and men and women working together, showing what right looks like. They formed a team, with a very close relationship and it was incredible to see the contributions they were making."

Preston said he genuinely enjoys his job and one of the best parts of that is getting to speak with Soldiers.

"I enjoy talking to Soldiers because they tell me how they see the Army," said Preston. "(Through my discussions with them), they see how their Army careers and their lives relate to the decisions made at the Army level and how they affect them."

As the Army Chief of Staff's (Gen. George W. Casey, Jr.) personal advisor on enlisted matters, Preston takes what the Soldiers tell him and passes it on to Casey. Relating what he learns from Soldiers, he also informs leaders in Washington, who make the policies affecting enlisted Soldiers and their families, on how those decisions affect the troops. He routinely testifies before Congress along with advising about enlisted matters on boards and councils.

After addressing the 1st Cav. Soldiers, Preston took the opportunity to hand out coins and many of the troops had their photos taken with Preston.

First Team Soldiers who met Preston said it was a worthwhile experience.

"This is a good opportunity that you don't get everyday," said Thedford, Neb. native Spc. Julianna Schaeffer, a radio operator/maintainer for Company B, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. "I'm surprised I got picked to go from our battalion, but it's a nice surprise."

"I was a little nervous and excited at the same time," said Spc. Diana Bravo, a food service specialist with the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, who hails from Los Gatos, Calif. "But it was an honor getting to meet him."