ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Graham, the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command's senior enlisted Soldier, will retire after 31 years of military service during a ceremony on Dec. 14, 2018 on Aberdeen Proving Ground.
As the senior enlisted advisor to the 20th CBRNE Command, he supports the commanding general's vision and priorities, the overall mission, and the health and welfare of all Soldiers and civilians assigned to the command.
With experience in areas such as CBRN, Combat Operational Testing and Chemical Materials Activity, Graham plans on making the Edgewood/Aberdeen, Maryland area his home after retirement.
"There's plenty of jobs in the area for someone of my skill set," he said. "This is kind of like the CBRN mecca, if there is such a thing."
Although he leaves the command mid-December, his official date of retirement will be in March 2019. In the meantime, he will be on leave spending time with family and working on some home projects.
"Command Sgt. Maj. Graham is constantly working to improve himself and challenge himself," said Brig. Gen. James Bonner, commanding general, 20th CBRNE Command, and battle buddy to Graham. "He always has home improvement projects and is currently working towards his Master's Degree."
Higher education has always been important to Graham, since joining the Army he has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and is close to obtaining his master's degree in business management.
"I joined the Army straight out of high school because I couldn't afford to go to college, but while I was in the Army I did well," said Graham. "I got promoted; I made rank; I got awards."
By the time he was a sergeant, he had several awards, medals and recognitions, including non-commissioned officer of the year for his unit.
"So basically, I did very well. I said, 'This might be my calling,'" he shared.
Over time, as he progressed in the Army, he became more appreciative of the armed forces in general, as well as aspects of God and country.
"Those things are really important to me now," he said. "College is still important, but I'm looking at it from a different perspective now."
Graham said the Army made him a better person.
"Some things haven't changed. I've always been dedicated and committed to hard work, and I've always loved my country," Graham said. "But the Army has made me a better Soldier, a better man."
He mentioned one event which gave him a greater love for our country: his redeployment from Operation Desert Storm in 1991. As he made his way to his unit area from an airfield in Fort Hood, Texas, he noticed hundreds of people along the road waving and cheering. That gesture of appreciation made him see things differently.
But even before his return home, Graham knew he was part of something special.
"When we liberated Kuwait ... To see the Kuwaiti civilians waving the American flag; it was a pretty powerful moment," he said.
Although those moments made a big impression and guided him in the right direction, Graham still pointed out that many people helped him become the leader he is.
"I've had a lot of great leaders along the way; first sergeants, platoon sergeants and commanders in Desert Storm and throughout my military career who shaped and molded me," he said. "I did what I was told, and I'm the end product of that."
Graham also gave a lot of credit to his parents for his success in the military. He grew up in Warren, Ohio, where his mom retired from General Electric and his dad was a steel worker who also did a variety of construction jobs.
"I'd do odd jobs with him," he said. "I'd be up on a house roofing, underneath installing insulation, doing masonry, and I think it kind of prepared me to get dirty and build resiliency. I got banged up working with my dad, and I got banged up working with the Army, but with the Army it was a bit easier."
Even though Graham has done well for himself throughout his military career, when asked about his biggest achievements, he mentioned several in which he was not even the beneficiary, like raising his family or getting his unit, the 21st Chemical Company, back from deployment without any casualties.
"When I was a first sergeant, I deployed the 21st Chem to Iraq, and I brought all of my Soldiers home safe," he said. "I wouldn't call that an achievement, but mission accomplished. It was definitely a highlight of my career, but I didn't do it on my own; it was everybody."
He also takes pride in helping Soldiers and setting a unit up for success.
"Watching a platoon or company which has not performed well, after the right coaching and mentoring, turn things around and do exceptionally well at the National Training Center or at a JRTC (Joint Readiness Training Center) rotation ... those are my greatest achievements," said Graham. "I was always the happiest when my Soldiers succeeded."
His previous commander, retired Brig. Gen. William King IV, said he saw these qualities and more when he selected him to be his adviser.
"I have known Command Sgt. Maj. Ken Graham for more than 20 years," said King. "He has always been, and continues to this day to be, a leader who leads from his heart, who truly believes in the mission, which resonates through the entire formation in a way that increases devotion to the unit and creates a sense of empowerment and confidence, regardless of the task that is at hand."
His current commander shared the same sentiment.
"It has been my honor to serve with Command Sgt. Maj. Graham," said Bonner. "He has been defined by his love for his family, which includes his Soldiers, and the impacts he made on so many that were fortunate to experience his leadership, mentorship and friendship."
There were many challenges during Graham's 30-year career, but there is one he regrets most.
"Being away from my family, not watching my daughter grow up, has been the biggest challenge of my career. I missed a lot of years," said Graham, visibly showing emotion. "By far, it has been the toughest thing that I've ever had to deal with in the Army."
Lucky for him, Graham had the support of a special companion.
"I have the best wife in Melony," he said. "I couldn't have asked for a better battle buddy. She held the fort down by herself when I was gone," he said. "Army spouses ... hats off to them all."
Many believe Army spouses serve alongside their Soldiers, and Melony is no different. Much like her husband, she always looked for ways to take care of others and has been a strong advocate for Soldiers, Army civilians, and Army families since 1995.
Melony is a recipient of the Carol Ann Watson Award, which is presented to spouses in the Chemical Regiment for "above and beyond" support to the nation and the Army family.
Graham's career also garnered several awards and decorations, including the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Combat Action Badge, the Master Parachutist Badge, the Royal Canadian Airborne Wings, the Air Assault Badge and the Drill Sergeant Badge.
He also received the prestigious Sergeant Audie Murphy Award and the Chemical Corps Regimental Association's Ancient Order of the Dragon Award.
Sgt. Audie Murphy Award recipients "exemplify leadership characterized by personal concern for the needs, training, development and welfare of Soldiers and concern for Families of Soldiers," according to United States Army Forces Command Regulation 600-8.
The Ancient Order of the Dragon award is presented to Soldiers who demonstrate the highest standards of integrity and moral character, an outstanding degree of professional competence, and contribute to the promotion of the Chemical Corps in numerous ways over the course of their careers.
The Ancient Order of the Dragon has a time criteria, which Graham surpassed since he has been a CBRN specialist his whole career.
"I joined the Army as a 'chemical' Soldier, so I've been a 'True-Blue Chem Dawg' the whole way through."