FORT BENNING, Ga. (Sept. 24, 2009) -- We live in an era of persistent conflict, and that's not likely to change any time soon, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston said Wednesday on the final day of the annual Infantry Warfighting Conference in Columbus, Ga.

The current protracted confrontation with forces who use violence to further their political and ideological agendas demands an aggressive, protracted counterinsurgency campaign, Preston said. To do so successfully, balance must be restored to a force that's over-taxed, under-strength and war-weary.

"Right now, the demands exceed our capabilities," Preston said. "With the current pace and tempo, many question our ability to sustain an all-volunteer force."

Aside from the stress inherent to combat, the present state of affairs is taxing military families and non-deployable assets who work overtime to compensate or support operational forces. It also accelerates the wear and tear on combat equipment and takes a toll on garrison infrastructures supporting training and housing for active and Reserve component forces. Ultimately, these stresses compound the strain on the force, Preston said.

The amount of time between deployments is far short of the two-year Army standard, he said. Current resets are insufficient, given the "redeployment, block leave, reset, train up, and gear-up" process that often gets compacted into 12 months.

And when we tell Soldiers it's time to "take a knee," Preston said, they're assigned to the schoolhouse, or NTC or recruiting duty, where they'll work six or seven days a week, 10 and 12-hour days, to train Soldiers or meet the mission.

"TRADOC has been the shock-absorber for the Army, and in some cases with manning at 70 percent," Preston said. "I've done it all, and I can tell you I worked far harder in the schoolhouse than I did in the operational unit."

In spite of all that, Preston was optimistic about the future of the force. With initiatives underway to grow the Army by 22,000, promising retention rates and the completion of modular reorganization and BRAC realignments within sight, the Army may well be balanced in the next few years.

To do so, we must retain good Soldiers, and Soldiers will re-enlist for three reasons, Preston said.

"A command climate that creates an atmosphere where Soldiers want to be part of the team, where they feel that they're part of something bigger than themselves," he said. "Job satisfaction. A Soldier wants to feel satisfied that he's contributing to the cause, no matter what his job is. And he wants his family to have a quality of life ... as good as or better than back home in Hometown, U.S.A."