YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea -- As the UH-60 Black Hawk prepared for final approach at the Camp Casey helipad, 15th Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey pressed his intercom button and let out a wistful groan, followed by a comment to no one in particular. "This is where I lived," he said, "this was my home."

It was the first time Dailey had seen Camp Casey and the nearby city of Dongducheon since being assigned there as a staff sergeant in 1996. Though 20 years have passed and the area surrounding the camp has significantly changed from a town full of single-story shops and dwellings to that of high-rise apartments, Dailey recounts stories from his time on Casey with the vivid detail of a man confronted by a flood of strong memories.

During his tour in Korea, Dailey was a section leader in 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. His duties as an infantryman at the time meant he rarely got the opportunity to leave the base; receiving only one weekend pass to Seoul during his 12-month assignment.

"It's a place that made us strong and ready because we trained every single day," he said.

Dailey's battalion commander at the time was then-Lt. Col. Vincent Brooks, the current commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, who calls the late 90s in Korea one of the greatest experiences of his career.

His current boss, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley served just miles away at Camp Greaves at the time as commander of 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Dailey credits the intense focus on readiness for contributing to the success of the leaders who have served here.

"I got the skills to be a great noncommissioned officer here because I was focused," he said. "Here (in Korea) you're laser focused because you know what's happening just north of you. Soldiers who have missions that are focused work harder."

Regardless of changes in landscape since he last set foot on the peninsula, the emphasis on readiness in Korea and throughout the Army, said Dailey, has not changed.

"It's always been about standards, it's always been about discipline and being ready," he said.

As he met with Soldiers throughout his tour, Dailey repeatedly brought up a readiness theme that has become the Army's top priority in the past few months. The looming downsizing of the force, coupled with unstable regions throughout the world have the Army's top leaders concerned about their available unit strengths.

Dailey said the number one challenge facing the Army today was deployability, citing that about 100 thousand Soldiers across the force are non-deployable.

"What are we here for as Soldiers?" Dailey rhetorically asked a group at a town hall meeting on Camp Casey. "To fight and win our nation's wars. Every Soldier's got to be ready to fight."

Among his initiatives to increase readiness is the Army's new select, train, educate, promote system that forces NCOs to attend and pass their commensurate level of education before they pin on the next higher grade. It's a program that has caused some concern in Korea as Soldiers worry that they won't be able to attend schools while serving in Korea.

Despite local concerns over the program, Dailey said that a driving force behind the decision was a cancellation rate of 50 percent for NCO education courses in 2015 throughout the Army that meant some Soldiers were keeping others from attending courses by tying up seats that went unused.

He pointed out to a group of Camp Casey Soldiers that under the old system, some Soldiers could pin on sergeant first class in spite of only having passed the Army's basic leader course, the Army's initiation for junior NCOs.

"Raise your hands … if you want your kids led by a senior NCO who's only been to BLC," Dailey said.

Dailey said that Soldiers who are doing what they should do to get ahead shouldn't be concerned about changes on the horizon for the Army, saying that the upside to a smaller force will make the Army more efficient. He cited better training opportunities for future Soldiers who must do their jobs in combat more efficiently.

Ultimately, Dailey said that the things that made him successful, 20 years ago during his time in Korea and ever since then still apply to Soldiers hoping to get ahead today.

"When I made a decision to stay in the Army, I committed to doing the best I can with everything I do," he said. "I can assure you this is a place of opportunity because a young poor kid from Pennsylvania … can become the Sergeant Major of the Army if he wanted it bad enough."