MANNHEIM, Germany — When Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston visited the 18th Military Police Brigade in Mannheim, he wanted to not only address the big topics in the Army right now – stress on the force, recruiting and retention, and the Year of the NCO – he also wanted to hear what Soldiers and their families felt were their biggest issues.
In order to accomplish this, Sergeant Major Preston met with three separate groups: Soldiers, families of Soldiers and senior non-commissioned officers. In each session, Sergeant Major Preston spoke about his three main focuses for the Army and followed with a question and answer session.
He also met with President Barack Obama recently to discuss what he felt were the main issues facing the Army, and Sergeant Major Preston used the recent forums to inform Soldiers and their families about the result of the meeting.
Sergeant Major Preston’s town-hall meetings provided Soldiers and their families with a rare glimpse into the types of discussions that go on at the highest levels of the military. The day also provided him with a chance to see what issues Soldiers face on an individual level and within their units.
During Sergeant Major Preston’s meeting with the families of Soldiers, he heard from spouses and children of Soldiers who were recently deployed. Education issues and questions about decreasing the length of deployments were the two main issues facing the group. Sergeant Major Preston addressed their concerns about education citing new legislation that individual states can pass to recognize educational credits of military children who move frequently and often face obstacles when moving from one school district to another. Too often, children fall behind when credits do not transfer from one state to another, adding even more stress to an already stressful situation.
The Army’s transition to 12-month deployments to Iraq, in effect since August 2008, and the reduced scope of operations in Iraq were also discussed.
While meeting with the senior non-commissioned officers of the 18th MP Brigade, Sergeant Major Preston discussed the future goals set out for the Army and its Soldiers. He also addressed some of the current goals the Army has been able to reach recently.
Sergeant Major Preston acknowledged the job the senior leaders were doing within the ranks keeping Soldiers motivated and inspired to stay in the Army. The Army has reached its goal of expanding by 45,000 Soldiers to reach 548,000 troops, and he noted they were able to meet the goal two years ahead of schedule.
Another issue facing senior NCOs was education on the military side. Sergeant Major Preston acknowledged that getting more education for Soldiers is an important issue to the Army. He addressed this progress being made by spotlighting a new Army “career-tracker” that will allow Soldiers to have a better idea of schools and self-development training that they could anticipate attending at different points throughout their career.
Sergeant Major Preston rounded out a full day of discussion with a forum for troops at the sports arena in Benjamin Franklin Village, which was packed with Mannheim-area Soldiers.
He briefed the Soldiers on his talk with President Obama and got feedback from them on what issues they were facing. Military schools, promotions, future deployments and tour length were among the topics Soldiers wanted to have addressed. It echoed many of the forums Sergeant Major Preston has engaged in during his travels across Germany meeting with troops.
Sergeant Major Preston took the time to give in-depth answers and provide Soldiers with insight into the bigger picture of the Army’s goals and where they fit in that process. At the end of the day, Sergeant Major Preston called Soldiers to join him up front to recite the Soldier’s Creed, a final reminder of the ceaseless mission of the Army as a whole and the Soldiers who fill its ranks.