As the longest serving Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA), Kenneth Preston left a notable legacy on the United States Army Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Corps. The goal of this paper is to provide an understanding of Preston’s characteristics and competencies. Preston is one of the best examples of an army leader, because he represented all the army attributes and competencies which positively impacted the NCO corps. His accomplishments and vision directly impacted my growth, development, personal leader philosophy, and provided a vision for the legacy that I would like to leave.
One of the top character traits of Preston’s career is the empathy for soldiers and families. Preston understood the needs of soldiers and families from his experiences. Preston also understood the relationship between mission success for the Army and the wellbeing of soldiers and their families. Based on this relationship, Preston worked with General Casey and the Secretary of the Army to develop the Army Family Covenant in 2007, and increased funding to Army family programs from $700 million to $1.4 billion in 2008 (Mages et al., 2013, p. 231). This increased funding increased quality of life for soldiers and families, while supporting General Casey’s goal of enhancing soldier fitness. (Mages et al., 2013, p. 231).
Preston displayed the presence characteristics of resiliency and confidence while assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 33d Armor, 3d Armored Division, in Gelnhausen, Federal Republic of Germany (Mages et al., 2013, pp. 222-223). The U.S. army placed Preston in a company with few senior noncommissioned officers. Preston fulfilled the roles of a tank gunner on the platoon leader’s tank, until his platoon leader transitioned (Mages et al., 2013, pp. 222-223). Among other characteristics, Preston displayed confidence and resiliency when he filled the role of Tank commander. Preston’s confidence helped him convince two members of his unit to change duty positions, and his resilience helped the crew train and become proficient at gunnery (Mages et al., 2013, p. 223). Preston also displayed resiliency as he worked and excelled for months without seeing or knowing where his family was living (Mages et al., 2013, p. 223).
Preston displayed the intellect characteristic of expertise while stationed at Armor School in Fort Knox (Mages et al., 2013, pp. 223-224). Preston instructed the fundamentals of tank gunnery at Armor Officer Basic Course (Mages et al., 2013, p. 224). He mastered and taught future platoon leaders on the M60A1, M60A3, and the prototype XM1 (Mages et al., 2013, p. 224). Preston’s expertise not only helped develop future army leaders, the Army also used his expertise and sent Preston to participate in an instructor exchange program (Mages et al., 2013, pp. 224-225). While still at Fort Knox, Preston’s used his knowledge of the M1A1 to write the new tank gunnery manual. Preston then traveled and trained armor units throughout the U.S. Army to assist in the transition from the M60 to the M1A1 (Mages et al., 2013, p. 223).
As an expert in his field, Preston was also a natural leader throughout his career. As discussed earlier, Preston accepted the tank commander responsibility when his Platoon leader transitioned. Preston used his sphere of influence to advocate for increased funding for family programs, which also balances mission and the welfare of followers (Mages et al., 2013, p. 231). Preston also pushed for increased dwell time following deployments to ensure the welfare of followers and their families (Cupp, 2009, p. 1). Preston also led by example as a subject matter expert on tanks as a soldier and an instructor. These points highlight that Preston led by example and focused on the welfare of his followers.
Preston believed leaders should be experts, and leaders should use their knowledge to develop future leaders. Preston helped identify that the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan required more professional noncommissioned officers that could make appropriate decisions in the absence of orders (Mages et al., 2013, p. 232). Preston adjusted the curricula of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) by adding increased responsibilities to junior noncommissioned officers (Mages et al., 2013, pp. 232-233). Preston also implemented the use of distance learning courses to improve efficiency in training and allow soldiers to take responsibility for their professional education (Mages et al., 2013, p. 233).
As the longest serving Sergeant Major of the Army, Preston’s accomplishments have had a lasting impact on the NCO Corps. Preston’s commitment to families and the welfare of soldiers resulted in the Army Family Covenant in 2007 and the budget increase from $700 million to $1.4 billion. (Mages et al., 2013, p. 231) This accomplishment resulted in improved family programs, fostered a positive environment for Soldiers, and assisted recruiting and retention (McIlvaine, 2011). Preston, with the help of TRADOC, successfully redesigned the NCOES system to better prepare noncommissioned officers for the chaotic nature of asymmetrical warfare (Mages et al., 2013, pp. 232-233). The redesigned and renamed courses developed noncommissioned officers who shoulder more responsibility (Mages et al., 2013, pp. 232-233). This increased responsibility and focus on professional development help transform the backbone U.S. Army to better accomplish current and future missions (McIlvaine, 2011).
Preston also changed the way the Army focuses on soldier fitness. Preston believed that scores for push ups, sit ups, and the two-mile run did not accurately reflect overall fitness of soldiers. Preston enacted the concept of “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness” which included emotional, social, spiritual, and family dimensions of individual readiness (Mages et al., 2013, p. 231). Preston’s approach to an overall concept of Soldier fitness resulted in measurement tools like the Global Assessment Tool (GAT) and the development of Master Resiliency Trainers (Benjamin, 2010). Preston’s accomplishments for soldiers and families will continue to impact the NCO corps for years to come.
Preston’s accomplishments and vision directly impacted my growth, development, personal leader philosophy, and provided a vision for the legacy that I would like to leave. I joined the Army in the midst of Preston’s transformation on the NCO corps. I attended the redesigned courses of Warrior Leader Course, Advanced Leader Course, and I’m currently in Senior Leader Course. Preston impacted these courses and my growth and development as an NCO by including skills in each course from senior level courses to junior levels (Mages et al., 2013, p. 231). Preston’s focus on families and the concept of comprehensive soldier fitness has influenced my personal leader philosophy. My philosophy of supporting the overall wellbeing of seniors, peers, and subordinates and their families is due to Preston’s guidance for army leaders. My goal is to focus on leaving a lasting impacts on soldiers and families welfare. I hope that my focus soldiers and their families improves mission capabilities, and develops future leaders that care for their comrades.
Kenneth Preston left a notable legacy on the NCO Corps, and directly impacted my development, leadership philosophy, and provided a vision for the legacy that I would like to leave. As Sergeant Major of the Army, he understood the needs of soldiers and families from his experiences and got results that directly improved quality of life. Preston believed leaders should not only be experts, but leaders should use their knowledge to develop future leaders. Advocating for resiliency and comprehensive Soldier fitness, he understood and experienced the need to be resilient leader. Preston is one of the best examples of an army leader, because he demonstrated all the army attributes and competencies which positively impacted the NCO corps.
- Benjamin, J. K. (2010, October 4). Sergeant Major of the Army touts comprehensive soldier fitness. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from https://www.army.mil/article/46084/sergeant_major_of_the_army_touts_comprehensive_soldier_fitness
- Cupp, J. (2009, March 25). SMA talks on army’s way ahead, soldiers’ concerns. The Daily Charge. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from http://static.dvidshub.net/media/pubs/pdf_4624.pdf
- Mages, R. M., Gillespie, M. F., Kelly, M. B., Elder, D. K., Hawkins, G. R., & Pierce, P. E. (2013). Part 2: The Sergeants Major of the Army. In The Sergeants Major of the Army (pp. 221-235). Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army.
- McIlvaine, R. (2011, February 22). SMA Preston reflects on army’s growth. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from https://www.army.mil/article/52234/sma_preston_reflects_on_armys_growth