By Lance D. DavisFebruary 11, 2009
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama met with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and the senior enlisted advisors of other services to hear concerns from a boots-on-the-ground perspective in the Oval Office Jan. 30.
The initial White House meeting was an opportunity for Obama to establish relationships with the most senior enlisted noncommissioned officers of the military, Preston said.
This was reportedly the first time a commander in chief held an official meeting with senior enlisted leaders. Previous presidents normally met with the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff. After already holding his meeting with the Joint Chiefs, Obama reached further to enlisted leaders.
"I don't know of any other president sitting down with the senior enlisted advisors," Preston said. "It sends a big message of his support of the military and really shows that he wants to connect with all our servicemembers out there."
Preston told Obama his biggest concern in the Army was stress on the force.
"For the fourth consecutive year, we have seen suicides increase," Preston said. "PTSD, domestic violence, sexual assault and acts of misconduct increased this past year are all indicators of increased pressures in the daily lives of our Soldiers and families."
Preston also said Soldiers ask him all the time "when will we see something more than 12 months of dwell time between deployments'"
According to the sergeant major of the Army, the year of dwell time does not provide a whole lot of time at home, and he emphasized this to Obama.
"He was very positive and attentive and understood what the 12 months of dwell time really means to Soldiers and their families," Preston said.
There was a candid, open discussion with Obama about the impact of the current economy on Army families.
According to Preston, due to the state of the economy, frequent mobility of Army families who have mortgages has resulted in them being stuck with high mortgages that exceed the value of their homes, increasing their debt. Preston said the president understands how the economy has affected the military and its families.
"He's able to reach out and really understand the economic impact on Soldiers and their families."
The conversation with the president highlighted the success of retention in the Army.
Fourth Infantry Division is at 96 percent of its annual retention mission four months in the 2009 fiscal year for example, he said.
Preston also acknowledged the selfless service and sacrifice Soldiers and their families make through re-enlistment.
"Soldiers are re-enlisting and staying with the team," he said. "We can all be very proud of Soldiers and their supporting families as they continue to volunteer and serve our country."
The president will continue to periodically meet with Preston and other military senior enlisted leaders, and this is an opportunity to tell the Soldier story, Preston said.
Preston said it was coincidental but good his initial meeting with Obama happened during this "Year of the NCO" in the Army.
"It speaks to what we're trying to do in the Army to recognize the value and the contributions of our noncommissioned officers," he said. "It's not just me or the person that's in this position as the sergeant major of the Army; it's the value and contributions of our noncommissioned officers and what they provide to our officer leadership across the Army."