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Preston retires after record SMA stint

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 01, 2011) -- The 13th sergeant major of the Army retired today after having served more than seven years -- the longest term for the position since its inception in 1966.

During his retirement ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston thanked a litany of individuals, military and civilian, officer and enlisted, and members of his own family, whom he said had been instrumental throughout his career in helping him accomplish his work, or who have stood by his side throughout his career.

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Of his proudest moment during his tenure as the Army's senior-most enlisted member, Preston was humble in saying it wasn't about him at all.

"It's about what the Army has accomplished," Preston said. "Over the last seven years, we've been an Army at war, supporting a nation at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We've had Soldiers deployed to over 80 countries around the world. We've liberated 50 million people and we've nearly completed the largest transformation of our Army since World War II. Transforming our Army while at war, with an all-volunteer force has to be our greatest accomplishment."

Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. spoke at the ceremony, after presiding over Preston's retirement from 35 years of Army service. He said hiring Preston the first time, in 2000 as command sergeant major for the 1st Armored Division, was "one of the best decisions I ever made."

"I asked for a list of potential candidates," Casey said. "As with every sergeant major selection process, they brought me the names of three or four really good sergeants major. It was hard to differentiate and figure out who was going to work best with me."

At the end of each interview Casey conducted with the candidates for the job, he asked them what they were most proud of in their life.

"Ken thought for a minute and said 'you know what I'm most proud of is my family,'" Casey recounted. "I said to myself, I can work with a guy like that. And so I picked him, and we've been friends with the Prestons ever since."

Later, in 2003, Casey served as the vice chief of staff of the Army, and was asked by then Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker for insight into a new sergeant major of the Army.

"(He) called me in and said 'vice, I'm trying to figure out who to pick for the next sergeant major of the Army. Do you know Ken Preston?'" he asked. "I said 'as a matter of fact, yes I do.' And I said he's the right guy to lead our enlisted force. He's the epitome of what we want a 21st-century noncommissioned officer to be -- and the rest is history."

Casey went on to serve as commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq from 2004 to 2007. Afterward, President George W. Bush nominated Casey to serve as the new Army chief of staff. Preston was still serving then as the SMA, from his appointment by Schoomaker. Casey said Preston wanted to step aside to let another serve as SMA, but he asked him to stay on.

"I asked him to stay with me until I finished," Casey said. "And what he accomplished over the past seven years is to take the most professional NCO corps in the world and make it better -- and our Army will be better for his efforts for decades to come."

As sergeant major of the Army, Preston served as the Army chief of staff's personal adviser on all enlisted-related matters, particularly in areas affecting Soldier training and quality of life. He devoted the majority of his time to traveling throughout the Army observing training, and talking to Soldiers and their families.

Preston enlisted in the Army in 1975. Throughout his career, he has served in every enlisted leadership position from cavalry scout and tank commander all the way up to sergeant major of the Army. During his retirement ceremony, Preston was presented with the Distinguished Service Medal.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler will serve as the 14th sergeant major of the Army. He was sworn in during a ceremony at the Pentagon just hours after Preston retired.

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