ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – A one-of-a-kind U.S. Army command recognized its fifth command sergeant major as the 2023 Defender of Liberty.
The 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command selected retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Graham as the 2023 Defender of Liberty.
Graham is the first retired enlisted leader to earn the prestigious award.
Established in 2019 on the command's 15th anniversary, the Defender of Liberty Award is presented to leaders who have made a significant impact on the U.S. military’s only multifunctional CBRNE command.
Retired Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Richard Cody was the first recipient of the award in 2019 for authoring the memo that led to the creation of the 20th CBRNE Command while serving as the deputy chief of staff of the Army for operations and plans.
The command selected retired Maj. Gen. John C. Doesburg as the 2020 Defender of Liberty. The 2021 Defender of Liberty was retired Maj. Gen. Keith R. Wendel. The 2022 Defender of Liberty was retired Lt. Gen. Leslie C. Smith.
Headquartered on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the 20th CBRNE Command is home to 75 percent of the active-duty U.S. Army’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) specialists and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians, as well as the 1st Area Medical Laboratory, CBRNE Analytical and Remediation Activity, five Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Coordination Teams and three Nuclear Disablement Teams (Infrastructure).
From 19 bases in 16 states, Soldiers and Army civilians from the 20th CBRNE Command take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.
A native of Warren, Ohio, and Chemical Corps Soldier, Graham served in leadership positions from squad leader to command sergeant major during his 31 years in the U.S. Army. Graham deployed for Operation Desert Storm and Operation Joint Endeavor. He also deployed to Iraq three times during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In addition to serving as the first sergeant for the 21st Chemical Company, Graham served as the senior enlisted leader of the 23rd CBRN Battalion and 48th Chemical Brigade before becoming the command sergeant major for 20th CBRNE Command.
Today, Graham serves as the vice president for Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Affairs for the Major General Harry Green Chapter of the Association of the United States Army.
Graham earned a master’s degree in business management from Excelsior College and graduated from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy.
Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John C. Doesburg, the 2020 Defender of Liberty; retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. William E. King IV, the sixth commanding general of 20th CBRNE Command; and retired U.S. Army Col. Robert Gutjahr, the president of the AUSA Major General Harry Green Chapter, all praised Graham for his leadership and commitment to Soldiers.
Mary Jane Jernigan, the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army (CASA) for northern Maryland, presented a coin and letter to Graham for his service.
Maj. Gen. Daryl O. Hood, the current commanding general of 20th CBRNE Command, hosted the event that wrapped up a three-day commander’s forum at the command headquarters. Hood thanked Graham for his leadership and continued support of the one-of-a-kind command.
Command Sgt. Maj. Dave Silva, the current senior enlisted leader of the 20th CBRNE Command, said Graham mentored him while in uniform and continues to mentor him today.
“Talk to anyone who served under him or beside him and then you will be inspired,” said Silva, a Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician from Long Beach, California. “He gave me the opportunity to lead and that gave me the opportunity to stand here and sing his praises from the position he proudly held before me.”
Silva said Graham was an example of the kind of leadership that has made the command the premier CBRNE command in the U.S. military.
“It’s my pleasure to welcome you into this prestigious and small group,” said Silva. “It is neat that he is the first enlisted precipitant of this title and this award. I can’t think of a better leader than retired Command Sgt. Maj. Ken Graham.”
Graham said he was honored to be named a Defender of Liberty by the command.
“I’m proud to stand next to the former recipients of this Defender of Liberty award,” said Graham. “I look forward to continuing to serve this organization.”