LATHAM, N.Y.-- Young sergeants are not only the "backbone of the enlisted force" but they're a strategic asset as well, retired Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston told 80 New York Army National Guard noncommissioned officers (NCOs) during a leadership workshop on Sept. 21.

Pointing to a "patch chart" that indicates the Army's worldwide mission, Preston emphasized that the Army missions in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and in African countries rely on trained NCOs to conduct important training and logistics missions.

"It's at the sergeant and staff sergeant level where those missions are being done," Preston said. "Small tactical units and convoys are out there being led by sergeants and staff sergeants."

Preston was one of the guest speakers for a two-day New York Army National Guard Enlisted Professional Development Workshop led by New York Army Guard Command Sgt. Maj. David Piwowarski, Sept. 21 and 22.

During his remarks, Preston, who served as sergeant major of the Army from 2004 to 2011, emphasized the need for officers and senior NCOs to work to "grow sergeants" in their platoons.

The Army realizes the importance of the noncommissioned officer corps and is working to make the system for training NCOs more like that used to train officers, he told the groups.

Sergeants will be moved into assignments where they can learn new skills and prepare for greater responsibility while taking time off to attend formal training to prepare for the next level of responsibility.

Preston now serves as the vice president of NCO and Soldier programs for the Association of the United States Army.

The purpose of the two-day workshop, Piwowarski said, is to broaden the perspective of future leaders who are currently in the ranks of corporal to sergeant first class. The attendees were picked by their leaders as NCOs who have displayed leadership and should move up in rank, he said.

It's also a chance for him and other senior NCOs to hear what the noncommissioned officers out in the field are thinking, Piwowarski said.

This helps him do his job of advising the New York Army National Guard leadership, he added,

"The workshop helps leaders understand a bigger picture than what they get at the unit level," Piwowarski said. "My intent is for these Soldiers to return to their units and talk about what they learned at the workshop and share information."

He invited Preston to speak because of the great experience the retired sergeant major had at the highest levels of Army leadership, Piwowarski said. Preston talked about the things a junior NCO needs to focus on to prepare for a successful career, Piwowarski explained.

Sgt. Rene Banks, a full-time NCO in the New York Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Command, said the workshop was a great way to "develop yourself as a leader."

She would also make sure to pass what she learned on to her Soldiers, she added.

Sgt. Matthew Llewellyn, a traditional Guard Soldier in the 222nd Military Police Company, said he came away from the workshop with a broader perspective on how the New York Army National Guard works.

"There's a lot I didn't know," he said.