FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The Army's top noncommissioned officer addressed a crowd of more than 200 Soldiers and business leaders at the Fort Bragg Club May 5 during the annual symposium held by the Braxton Bragg Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.

Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston served as guest speaker and he spoke of the importance for Soldiers to remain physically, socially and spiritually fit. He also explained how the Army is doing its part to help them get there.

"Soldiers train every day for the physical demands of deployment," Preston said. "Soon, they'll be getting training in the other areas, too. We don't do a whole lot of training, we don't do a whole lot of preparation to build strength and resilience in those demands," he said. Now that has changed.

The Army started the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program last year at Fort Jackson, S.C. The program is designed to build mental resilience by using individual assessments, tailored virtual training, classroom training and embedded resilience experts to provide the critical skills for Soldiers, Family members and Army civilians. The bottom line - it teaches Soldiers how to cope with stress.

"When they're faced with adversity, we want them to gain strength from that," Preston said.
He also pointed out that the military has come a long way since the standing joke that if the Army wanted Soldiers to have a Family, it would have issued them one. But multiple deployments have led to increased cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression among spouses and a climbing divorce rate, according to recent reports.

Preston explained that Families are important to the Army and the new resilience training should be instrumental in strengthening the Family bond.

"The new fitness program is graduating master resilience trainers, with an early goal to have one in every battalion," Preston said.

For future Soldiers, the training will be intrinsic to the military experience, Preston added.
"They will grow up in an environment in which master resilience training will be part of their experience across all five dimensions," he said.

After opening the forum for questions, Preston was asked one of the most common questions heard around Fort Bragg, "when are troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan'"

In February 2009, President Barack Obama explained that an estimated two-thirds of the 142,000 American troops in Iraq will be withdrawn by the latter half of 2010 and the remaining troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

Preston said that timeline still stands as the number of troops in the country is expected to decrease to 50,000 by the end of September and all remaining troops should be redeployed from Iraq by the end of 2011.

He explained that there is no guaranteed timeline on when Soldiers will begin returning from Afghanistan because there is still work to be done in developing the Afghan Army to levels necessary for it to become self-sufficient.

"It takes time to build that kind of capacity," he said, adding that there's no agreed deadline for that to happen. "But I remain optimistic."

During this visit to Fort Bragg, Preston visited Soldiers at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. He also awarded the Army's Superior Safety Award to Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ceballos from the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center.