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Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston

Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston

Listen to Learn:

  • How military service instills confidence and commitment
  • The team expertise required to run a tank
  • How military personnel deal with change of Commander in Chief
  • Three reasons soldiers re-enlist
  • What AUSA is, what it does, how you can help
  • family challenges of serving in the military

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Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston served as the 13th Sergeant Major of the Army from January 15, 2004, to March 1, 2011. He retired as the longest-serving Sergeant Major of the Army, with more than seven years in the position.

As Sergeant Major of the Army, Preston served as the Army Chief of Staff’s personal adviser on all Soldier and Family-related matters, particularly areas affecting Soldier training and quality of life. He devoted the majority of his time to traveling throughout the Army serving as a force provider, overseeing Soldier and unit training, manning and equipping challenges, and talking to Soldiers and their Families to understand their personal hardships and challenges.

Preston is a native of Mount Savage, Maryland. He entered the Army on June 30, 1975. He attended Basic Training and Armor Advanced Individual Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Throughout his 36-year career, he served in every enlisted leadership position from cavalry scout and tank commander to his final position as Sergeant Major of the Army. Other assignments he held as a command sergeant major were with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division; 3rd “Grey Wolf” Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division; 1st Armored Division in Bad Kreuznach, Germany; and V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany.

His assignment before serving as the 13th Sergeant Major of the Army was as command sergeant major for Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad. He continues to support Soldiers and their Families as the Vice President of Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs at the Association of the United States Army, the Army’s educational and professional development association.

Preston’s military education includes all levels of NCO education to include the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Class 46; M1/M1A1 Tank Master Gunner Course; Master Fitness Trainer Course; and Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officers Course. Preston holds a master’s degree in business administration from Trident University International.

His awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star Medal, Army Meritorious Service Medal with 3 oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal with 3 oak leaf clusters, Army Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Good Conduct Medal 11th award, National Defense Ribbon with bronze star, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Kosovo Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NCOES Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon 5th award, NATO Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal (Government of Kuwait), Joint Meritorious Unit Award with bronze star, Army Meritorious Unit Commendation and Department of the Army Staff Badge.

He and his wife Karen have three adult children, Valarie, Kenneth Jr. and Michael, and eight grandchildren.

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[00:00:08] GM: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews, this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider’s view into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk-taking and the commonalities of successful people. Connect with Kerry through her candid, often funny and informative weekly blog. There, you’ll read, learn and may comment about her life as a 21st century wife, mother, daughter and entrepreneur.

Now it’s time to get all up in your business with Kerry McCoy.


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Back to you, Kerry.

[00:01:19] KM: Thank you, Gray. My guest today is retired 13th Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston. For 36 years, the Sergeant Major served in many positions and on many assignments, but it is his last position that gave him his retiring title and made him the longest serving sergeant major of the Army with more than 7 years at that post.

You may be asking yourself what is a sergeant major, because that’s what I did. I’ve learned that in that role, Preston served as the Army Chief of Staff’s personal advisor on all soldier and family related matters. His focus was on soldier’s training and their quality of life. Much of the time, Preston traveled and help Army leaders at all levels with their responsibilities. To name a few, unit training, manning and equipment challenges. In addition, he assisted and spoke with soldiers and their families to help them understand the needs, personal hardships and challenges that come from serving a nation at war.

Sergeant Major Preston is also a coauthor of the book titled Breaching the Summit, a book focused on the leadership experiences of him and five other former senior enlisted advisors. The book was released in May of 2018.

Joining us today is a past guest of UIYB, retired Lt. Kernel David Cooper, president of the Association of the United States Army and educational and professional nonprofit that supports soldiers and families of past, present and future, I think, ROTC soldiers.

It is a pleasure to meet and welcome to the table Sergeant Major of the Army, Kenneth Preston.

[00:03:10] KP: Thanks, Kerry. Glad to be here.

[00:03:12] KM: When I read in your bio a nation at war, most people don’t consider us that. Can you explain that?

[00:03:22] KP: Sure. If you look at the time that I had the opportunity to serve as sergeant major of the Army, January 2004, I was prior to that the V Corps Star Major in Iraq. I was the senior sergeant major in Iraq with a Combined Joint Task Force 7 when General Pete Schoomaker, who was the Chief of Staff of the Army selected me to come back, and 15th of January 2004, I was sworn into that position. Then I stayed at that position until March of 2011.

Those were some very tough times for our Army and for our nation with the amount of soldiers that we had deploying. At that time we had 150,000 soldiers in Iraq and 30,000+ in Afghanistan. A lot of soldiers, training, and deploying, and of course redeploying, coming back, resetting and then getting ready for that next deployment.

When I joined the Army, I enlisted in the Army right out of high school. So I graduated from high school in May of 1975. The 30th of June, I shipped off to basic training and then continued to serve until March of – 2011 is when I came out of the position. Then it was just after my 36th anniversary of June of 2011 that I actually retired.

[00:04:48] KM: Do you call all of those years active duty?

[00:04:49] KP: It was all active duty.

[00:04:50] KM: When I think of active duty, I think of like at the front.

[00:04:53] KP: We deployed to Kuwait in October-November of 2002 to begin preparations for possible invasion. It was March of 2003. 19 March, we launched the invasion, and then I was the Senior Star Major there all the way through the end of 2003.

[00:05:16] KM: When you did enlist on June 30th, 1975, what were you thinking? He’s smiling. This is radio. He’s smiling.

[00:05:26] KP: Yes.

[00:05:26] DC: This is a good story.

[00:05:28] KM: Oh, good!

[00:05:29] KP: This goes back to why did I join the Army. I was a senior in high school, I was an academic. Kind of expected to go on and go to college, but reality sets in. I knew that I wasn’t going to get an academic scholarship. I was a great baseball player. My dreams were to play center field for the New York Yankees, but I knew I wasn’t going to get an athletic scholarship to go to school.

Of course, my girlfriend and I, we were dating at that time. Both of us were seniors in high school. So we talked about all the things that we wanted to do in life. I made a decision in February of 1975 to join the Army, and my intent was to go in the Army, spend my four years, get out, go to college and become an architect. I took the Oath of Enlistment in March of ’75. So I was delayed entry. Like I said, graduated the end of May and went in the Army in June. Between that, got married. I went in as a married soldier.

[00:06:39] KM: Busy dude. Are you still married to the same lady?

[00:06:41] KP: Still married. Yeah. Here it is now 44 years later, three children.

[00:06:47] KM: Eight grandchildren.

[00:06:47] KP: Eight grandchildren. Yeah, that’s correct. Yeah. You read my bio.

[00:06:51] KM: I did. You were only going to stay four years. You stayed 36 years.

[00:06:56] KP: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. Never in my wildest dreams where I’ve thought I was going to make the Army a career. There was a point in there where I was going to get out. My first duty station was Fort Hood, Texas, and this is one of the things that we talked about. Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains, and these are small little towns tucked away in the mountains back there. Really, we wanted to see the world.

I intentionally picked Texas as my first duty station. Fort Hood, Texas was where I went to first, First Calvary Division. Arrived there in November of 1975. After I finished Initial Entry Training at Fort Knox, literally, I went back to Maryland, act upped my wife, and we had a station wagon. I still remember, it was a 1971 Ford Country Sedan wagon, and off we went. We drove to Texas. My mom rode with us, because she was worried about us. We’re both 18-years-old.

[00:07:52] KM: From Maryland?

[00:07:53] KP: From Maryland. Yup. 1,600 miles. I can still remember too. Drove to Fort Hood, went down there. We found a place, an apartment. I signed in. At that point, I was a PV2, Private Second Class.

[00:08:07] KM: Everything is acronyms in the military. Okay.

[00:08:08] KP: Yeah. Initially, when you in the Army as an Enlisted Soldier, you start out as a Private E1. That’s pay grade. Pay grade is E1. For me, when I finished 8 weeks of basics and then 8 weeks of advanced individual training as an armor crewman tanks. I was automatically promoted to PV2. So I was now an E2. So I got a pay raise.

I reported in to my unit. So the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cav at that time was an experimental unit. The 1st Calvary Division had just come out of Vietnam. They were an Air Cav Division in Vietnam and they just gone through this transformation to be a Ground Maneuver Division, which is what they are today.

Of course, while we were there, we were doing a lot of testing for the Army to determine what the Army needed to look like for the Cold War. We were experimenting with – At that time, there were five tanks and a tank platoon and we were experimenting with three tanks and a tank platoon. We had dune buggies, we had motorcycles for reconnaissance elements. We also did some testing for the Army. The basic armor reliability test, the BART test as it was called. It was designed to determine if it was better to invest money to the older tank systems or did we now have to invest and build what we now have today as the Abraham’s Tank. Yeah. We had the M48A5 tanks. We had M60A1s.

[00:09:42] KM: No wonder you stayed in. You had like a million toys you just listed.

[00:09:46] KP: It was.

[00:09:47] KM: I mean, my husband would go crazy with dune buggies and guns.

[00:09:51] KP: It was. As I tell everybody, I was a scout for a while, and the Army was paying me to ride dirt bikes.

[00:09:57] KM: But this is 1975. You weren’t deployed, I think you said a minute ago, till 2003. What did you do for 20 years besides riding dune buggies and played with guns?

[00:10:09] KP: What the Army does is it’s all about readiness, and it’s training, and it’s growing leaders. For me, I rose to the ranks very quickly. As a young specialist and then a sergeant, I reached the rank of sergeant at two years. As a leader of that unit, you’re training and you’re growing the next generation of soldiers that are coming in behind you. This is one of the things that I learned. I mean, if you would have told me when I was in high school, because I was very much an introvert. I was the quit, shy kid that sat all the way in the back of the classroom. Even with kids that I had been in school with since I was 6-years-old, my high school went 1st grade to 12th grade. When I was a senior in high school, we had 78 in our graduating class. There was only about 830 kids in the whole school.

Even though I was in school with kids I had known since I was 6. I had known my wife since she was 6. I was afraid to stand up and speak publicly in the classroom. One of the things that the Army did for me was it gave me that confidence. It really comes down to confidence and the commitment to be able to do things, to be able to teach, to be able to take what I had learned as a young private, as a private first class and as a specialist. Now take that knowledge and use it to grow that next generation of soldiers that were coming up behind me.

[00:11:37] KM: Speaking of learning, how do you teach a soldier to learn to harness his fears?

[00:11:44] KP: The best way to do that is repetition. This gets in to your question about what was I doing for 20 years. Just take the BART test that we did, okay? We would spend about 30 days out in the field training. Yeah, with tanks, I mean, you’ve got maneuver. You’ve got gunnery. You go through and you do the training on that equipment. Then we come in, we’d have about two weeks to reset the equipment, and then we’d be gone again for another 45 days. When you live and work on a piece of equipment, you know that piece of equipment like the back of your hand.

[00:12:23] KM: It’s like driving a car. Nobody has to tell me to step on the brake.

[00:12:26] KP: Sure, and that’s as an individual operator, okay? As an operator. But imagine now a tank is what I call as like a giant robot, and you have four operators inside that vehicle and all four of those people have to know what the other person is thinking and doing. I mean, the driver has to know when to keep a steady platform while the gunner is trying to engage and lay on to another target, while the tank commander is giving a fire command and directions for the loader. At the same time, firing a 50 caliber machine gun on top. So you have all these different things going on. Literally, you have seconds to react.

On the battlefield, in tank-on-tank warfare, if you’re exposed and you’re out in the open, you have about 10 seconds. So it takes a lot of training to become very, very competent and proficient with that piece of equipment.

[00:13:20] KM: Some of the newer recruits that go in, do they get the kind of training you had?

[00:13:24] KP: Absolutely.

[00:13:26] KM: If I was a new recruit signing up today, how long would it take me to get trained?

[00:13:30] KP: Well, you would start out – That’d be progressive. It’s interesting. I had one of these – I was asked this question back in 1978. I went before the Sergeant Morales Club Board, and at that time we were opening some of the positions in the Army, artillery as an example, was being opened to women to be served. I was asked that exact question about how would women coming into the organization learn the things that I knew as a tank commander? I said, “Well, you start out as a loader on the tank and you learn the responsibilities of being a loader. Just like driving a car.”

Of course, it’s going through, doing multiple field problems, and gunneries. Of course then as you get promoted, then you get moved up to become the driver. Then you get to be the driver. Now you’re driving hundreds of miles cross-country and road marches and all the rest of it. You already now know what the loader does and you learn what the driver does. Then you move up and you become the gunner. Of course, as you’re the gunner, now you’re kind of coaching and mentoring the driver. You’re coaching and mentoring the loader.

[00:14:37] KM: Over how long a period of time this is taking? Takes you to do this? A year?

[00:14:41] KP: For each of these position?

[00:14:43] KM: To move through the progression.

[00:14:45] KP: No. It takes years.

[00:14:47] KM: Oh, years! Wow!

[00:14:48] KP: Yeah. For me, to grow from – I was fast mover. At the time, 1975 in the Army, we were probably manned at about maybe 60% strength at Fort Hood. Maybe a little bit above that. There was lots of opportunities to get promoted. I mean, there was always vacancies. I was always in a position that was more senior to me. I had the opportunity to step up as a young specialist and be the gunner on a tank. Usually the gunner, the lowest rank would be like a sergeant. But I was a gunner on the battalion commander’s tank as a specialist. When you’re doing lots of things and you’re very, very active. I mean, you learned through experience.

[00:15:29] KM: It’s kind of – Each person, how fast they learn. We’ve got a lot to talk about. Let’s take a quick break. We’ve got to get to a bunch of stuff. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with retired Sergeant Major Kenneth Preston. We’ll ask about his tour of Iraq, his duties as the longest running sergeant major of the Army. We’ve got a lot to talk about. We’ll be back after the break.


[00:15:51] GM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag & Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed. Over this time, Kerry’s business and leadership knowledge grew.

As early as 2004, she began sharing her knowledge in her weekly blog. In 2009, she founded the nonprofit Friends of Dreamland Ballroom. In 2014, Brave Magazine, a biannual publication. Today she has branched out into this very radio show, YouTube Channel and podcast.

Each week you’ll hear candid conversations between her and her guests about real-world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that we hope you’ll find interesting, inspiring and educational. Stay up-to-date by going to flagandbanner.com and joining our email list. You’ll receive our popular water cooler weekly email that notifies you of upcoming guests, sales at flagandbanner.com, access to Brave Magazine articles and Kerry’s current blog post, all that in one weekly email.

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Back to you, Kerry.


[00:17:01] KM: You are listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with the 13th and retired Sergeant Major of the Army, Kenneth Preston, and coauthor of the five-star book Breaching the Summit. Before the break we talked about military life. How you got into it. Why you should join. How you get trained. What great opportunities it is for everybody.

In the 36 years in service with the many commanders and the chiefs that you’ve had, I’ve always wanted to ask somebody this question. I’ve never asked anybody this. You can’t agree with every commander-in-chief that gets voted in. I’ve always wondered how service personnel handle the politics of America when the people vote and it could possibly change the course of your life and your safety. Tell us how you handle these changes especially when you may not agree with them.

[00:17:50] KP: I say that for all of us in the military, we’re, A, political. We’re down the middle of the road and regardless of what administration comes in, we’re loyal to the president. When we take the oath of enlistment, we take an oath not to the president or the administration. We take it to the Constitution.

Our oath is to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. That’s one of the things I think that’s sets us as Americans and particularly our American military apart from any other country around the world. That’s what we believe in as that constitution.

[00:18:31] KM: In your bio, you had two full paragraphs of enlisted leadership positions and assignment from Calvary Scout and tank commander, which we just talked about, to your final position as sergeant major of the Army. 36 years, 7 as a sergeant major. That leaves 19. How much of that was spent in active duty and over which wars?

[00:18:54] KP: For me as an enlisted soldier coming up through the ranks. We talked about me rising up to the rank of sergeant as a gunner. Of course, that was at Fort Hood, Texas. Then it was a period in there where I came down on assignment instructions to go to Germany. At that point, my wife and I had started a family. We had two children, and I had to make a decision. I had about 14 months left remaining on my four-year obligation and I could go to Germany and do my 14 months and then get out. Allow Karen and the kids to go back and live with her mom and dad until I got there. Then we talked about it.

The plan was to go back and live at a mobile home back on the farm. Work the farm part-time for some money and go to school fulltime. But then we talked about – This is what I always say. There’re three reasons why soldiers, reenlisted stay in the Army. One is command climate. The leadership that you work for, if it’s positive and you enjoy what you’re doing and going to work. I mean, you’re going to stay with the team.

Second thing was job satisfaction. For me, I was on tanks. I was having fun. We were training. We’re out. I mean, that’s what I came in the Army to do. I was a scout on motorcycles. Job satisfaction, and I was valued for what I did and the work that I provided. The third was quality of life. Quality of life, not just for me as an individual, but for my family. The quality of life that I was able to provide for them was as good or better than what I could provide back at hometown U.S.A.

We talked about it, and I reenlisted. I reenlisted for another 3 years, and this is so I could take the family with me to Germany, and we did. What a wonderful experience for – At this point, we’re 20-years-old. So you got two 20-year-old with two little babies and we go to Germany for three years. We have a chance to see Europe, live over there and –

[00:20:50] KM: Those three things you just mentioned, the quality of the leadership, the enjoyment, the task of your job and the quality of your life don’t just apply to jobs in the military. They apply to jobs everywhere. Those are three of the reason people work everywhere.

[00:21:07] KP: That’s exactly right. One of the things is the command climate that you work under, and it starts with the first line supervisor and it really goes up to the chain of command, that officer chain of leadership. I say it goes up as high as the first general officer in the chain of command, which is usually a division commander.

Then also your NCO support chain. Those first line NCOs that you work for. That positive environment that you work in is what sets the stage for you to continue to serve.

[00:21:42] KM: Nobody wants to follow a negative leader. I mean, positivity is the reason people are leaders. In Iraq, on that tour of duty, tell us what you did there.

[00:21:51] KP: Coming up through the ranks. In 2002 when we deployed to Kuwait and we did the preparations and, of course, we were given the order to launch the invasion. I was the 5th corps command sergeant major at that time. I served as a battalion star major at Fort Hood from 1996 to ’97. I was a brigade star major from ’97 to ’99. I was a division star major from ’99 to 2001 and then the corps star major.

I served in all those different command sergeant major assignments at different levels of command. So 5th corps is a three-star level command and it’s the headquarters that is designed to do the command and control of four or five divisions. A division is about 18,000 soldiers. Four or five divisions on the ground plus all the other enablers, the combat support and service supports sustainment kind of units that you have on the ground.

For Iraq, it was 150,000 soldiers on the ground. So I was the senior star major. Every day in Iraq, my role was really to go out and spend time at the brigade level. It was the brigade combat teams. It was the sustainment brigades. Each day I went to a different brigade and I would spend the entire day going through each of those battalions within that brigade ensuring they were doing all the right things, because I knew what the plans were, a commander’s intent at the corps level. Then, really, I was able to go down at the brigade level to ensure those orders, the guidance and everything, how it was being interpreted.

[00:23:40] KM: So you met with the leaders to make sure the leaders were doing it right, interpreting it right, following procedure, and then everybody was being safe.

[00:23:48] KP: Sure. Not just the leaders. It was a chance to go down to the lowest level. It was the private that was down in the second platoon of bravo company.

[00:23:57] KM: I know that had to be rewarding.

[00:23:59] KP: It was. It was wonderful. It was a wonderful opportunity to get out and see soldiers on the ground and to be able to understand this really gets at what I did also as the sergeant major of the Army. It was decisions that were made in that headquarters. What was the second, third and fourth order effects of those decisions that were being in the headquarters as it was impacting soldiers on the ground for the mission in which they had to execute.

[00:24:23] KM: If you want to find out what’s going on, you go and ask the people in the trenches.

[00:24:29] KP: That’s right.

[00:24:29] KM: You don’t ask management, “What’s going on over there?” You go down and you ask the guy down there on the line or wherever what’s going on. I think everybody needs to know this, because even my staff doesn’t always remember this. Soldiers are only Army personnel. A lot of people think soldiers means servicemen of all kinds. I have made that mistake before, and I think that’s an interesting little tidbit that I think my listeners would like to know. Soldiers are only Army.

[00:24:55] KP: Yup.

[00:24:55] KM: Your medals are long, and I would like to name a few and tell us how you got them. I can’t name them all, because it really is two paragraphs. Distinguished Service Medal, The Legion of Merit with oak leaf clusters. You got a Bronze Star Medal. What was that for?

[00:25:11] KP: Bronze Star Medal was for Iraq. That was for Meritorious Service in a combat zone.

[00:25:18] KM: You got lots of Meritorious Service medals. You got a Coast of Oak Campaign Medal.

[00:25:23] KP: When I was the division star major for the 1st armor division, which at that time was based in Germany, we spent from 2000 to 2001 in Coatesville. We were there for a year. We did what was called the two alpha, two bravo rotation in Coatesville.

[00:25:40] KM: You got lots of global war on terrorism medals. Kuwait Liberation Medal.

[00:25:45] KP: That was part of Dessert Shield Dessert Storm and Operation Positive Force. If you look at Dessert Storm, so this goes back to October 1990 when we started deploying troops into Saudi Arabia, 82nd Airborne was launched into Saudi Arabia to defend Saudi Arabia, because Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Then, or course, February of ’91, Dessert Storm. Drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait back into Iraq.

Then I was with the 11th Calvary Regiment, which was one of the two Calvary Regiments that patrolled the East-West German border, Czechoslovakian border in Germany. 5th Corps, the 11th Cav, or two units that didn’t deploy or initially for Dessert Shield and Dessert Storm, but we were given the mission right at the end of Dessert Storm to deploy. So the 11th Cav deployed into Saudi Arabia and then into Kuwait. We became the security force while everybody pulled out of Iraq to reestablish the border between Iraq and Kuwait and then to put out all the oil well farmers.

Operation Positive Force is the third Bronze Star on the Southwest Asia service medal. That included also – We had support. We had helicopters up in the north supporting the curds at that time. So it was a humanitarian relief effort as well.

[00:27:09] KM: I think you may have already talked about this. How did the sergeant major position come about and why is it important? On the Wikipedia page it says about you and I quote, “A sergeant major of the Army, Preston served as the Army Chief-of-Staff’s personal advisor on all soldier and family related matters particularly areas affecting soldier training and quality of life. He devoted the majority of his time to traveling throughout the Army serving as force provider, overseeing soldier and unit training, manning and equipment challenges and talking to soldiers and their families to understand their personal hardships and challenges.”

We don’t have enough time to go over those, but one that I would kind of like – And I think you spoke to a lot of these, but I would kind of like to ask you about helping soldiers and families with understanding and navigating their personal hardships. What is their biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

[00:27:57] KP: Sure. For us, particularly during those years, 2004 to 2011, we had lots of challenges. We had units that spent 12 months in combat would come back. Of course, the unit would reset. Commanders that were assigned to that unit would leave to go on to their next assignment. Non-commission officers, soldiers in that unit, they were like, as an example, stationed in Germany and they were assigned to one of the Germany units. If they completed their three years over there, they rotate back to Konus. In many cases, they would go to a unit that was getting ready to redeploy. So it created lots of challenges.

As I think back now as we’re talking, probably the biggest challenge we had was childcare, because when you deploy a soldier, you leave a single spouse with a family at home. Many of them had careers of their own. For us, it wasn’t just the Army. We have soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen out there.

For all the services during that time, childcare was one of those huge challenges. One of the things that I had the opportunity to do was to testify before Congress, and usually every February or March, all the senior listed advisors would go over to Capitol Hill and there was a period in there for about two years, and we were asked. On this subcommittee, we would always be asked what’s your number one, number two issue for your soldiers.? We would usually try to meet a couple of weeks in advance to kind of talk about what our number ones and numbers twos were.

Where we could come together and say this is our number one united across all the services. For two years, it was childcare. Congress was very, very good at supporting our military. We had, I know just in the Army, there were 70 child development centers that were built across the Army.

[00:29:57] KM: That’s how you overcame it, was build child development centers for the Army?

[00:30:01] KP: That was one of those challenges that soldiers and families were facing at that time. What’s the things that you can do to take some of that stress off the force?

[00:30:10] KM: Help with the childcare.

[00:30:12] KP: Childcare was a big one.

[00:30:12] KM: This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with retired Sergeant Major Kenneth Preston. We’ll ask what leadership means to him and about the book he coauthored Breaching the Summit. We’ll also ask Preston and joining us, Lt. Col. David Cooper talk and give details about the 40th birthday event coming up for the Arkansas chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army. We’ll be back after the break.


[00:30:37] KP: Flagandbanner.com is proud to sponsor Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Housed in 100-year-old building in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, we offer an old-school variety shopping experience with free front door parking, friendly clerks and department store variety.

Come in and check out our new fall and winter décor, our seasonal garden banners and door hangers add holiday cheer to any walkway. Can’t make it downtown? Don’t worry, the internet is always open. You can browse our website 24/7 and live chat during office hours with customer service representatives that are eager to help you. If online shopping isn’t your thing, our customer service experts are available by phone six days a week.

Telling American made stories, selling American made flags, the flagandbanner.com


[00:31:21] KM: I’m speaking today with retired 13th Sergeant Major of the Army, Kenneth Preston, coauthor of the book Breaching the Summit, which is a 5-star rating on Amazon. I want to ask you real quick about the book. You coauthored this book called Breaching the Summit. How and why did that come about?

[00:31:43] KP: There’re six of us, and we’re all best friends, and we all served together as the senior enlisted advisors in our positions at the same time. In that book you’ve got sergeant major of the Marine Corps, retired Mike Barrett. You have Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Rick West. You have Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, Jim Roy. You have Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, Skip Bowen, and you have the senior enlisted advisor the National Guard Bureau, Chief Master Sergeant retired Denise Jelinski-Hall.

All six of us, we’re best friends. We kind of came together and –

[00:32:24] KM: Were you in the Pentagon together?

[00:32:24] KP: We are. We’re all in the Pentagon together. Mike kind of came in at the tail end of my term. Yeah, we were all together. After the Army, after we retired, we had a chance to come together and form a little group, a consulting group called Summit Six. So we would come together periodically and try to do some consulting kind of things. But one of the things –

[00:32:47] KM: Who did you consult? Businesses or –

[00:32:51] KP: Military advisors.

[00:32:52] KM: Military advisors. Okay. Go ahead.

[00:32:53] KP: We service military advisors. One of them said – We were just sitting around, probably drinking an adult beverage, but we were probably sitting around one evening and someone said, “We got to write a book, because we were telling war stories, all of these wisdom that we had gained throughout our military careers.” Somebody else said, “Yeah! I think that’s a great idea.” I’m thinking to myself, “I’ve got a fulltime job.” But I agreed. We all said we would do it and we all put together 50 pages that make up this book.

[00:33:23] KM: Each of you wrote 50 pages?

[00:33:25] KP: That was our goal. We’ll put together 50 pages.

[00:33:27] KM: What was the story you told?

[00:33:28] KP: I think all of us started out with an introduction chapter of how we grew up as kids. Me, I grew up delivering newspapers and all those kinds of things.

[00:33:35] KM: On a farm.

[00:33:35] KP: On a farm. Then, of course, how we ended up in the military. From there, my focus was on really what I learned about leadership in my first six years in the Army. What I learned in those first six years, my time at Fort Hood and those three years I spent in Germany really set the foundation for my success for the rest of my Army career.

[00:34:00] KM: What did you learn?

[00:34:02] KP: I learned really the fundamentals about taking someone. In the Army and like all of our services. I mean, you bring people in from diversity, diverse corners of the country and you bring them in and you mold them into a team, and it was one of the most inspirational things that you learned very quickly that leading by example is one of those things that has the most immediate impact on people who are coming in from – I’ve got soldiers that come in from Puerto Rico. Soldiers that come in from Guam, Hawaii, from Huntsville, Alabama, to Maine.

You got people coming in from all across the country, all different backgrounds and beliefs. But when you lead by examples, one of those things that I found – Of course, I became a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher. Then all the things that I learned as a young soldier coming to the ranks, I wanted to teach them to be as good or better than what I was.

[00:35:04] KM: Leading by example. Give me another, something you learned.

[00:35:08] KP: Lead by example. Then the other thing too is never leave your unit worse than what it was. When you come in to an organization, you look for things to improve, and you want to leave the organization better than it was than you got there.

[00:35:21] KM: I have a friend who told her son that whenever you rent a house, I want you to leave that house better than it was when you got there. I can’t say that very many college kids do that.

[00:35:32] KP: Yeah. That was one of those things. As I look back, all the houses I rent, I’d like to think that whether it was government quarters or the houses that we rented, even the mobile home that we lived in in Killeen, Texas, we left it better than it was than we moved in.

[00:35:46] KM: I think that that is almost a definition of a leader, is a person who’s always improving everywhere, their surroundings, their processes, their relationships. I don’t think leaders can stop improving on everything around themselves.

[00:36:04] KP: One of the other things I’ll leave you with is a thought, and that piece about improving yourselves. One of the things we used to teach was the 11 traits of being a leader. One of those, lead by example, but the other one I’ll leave you with that I found being very important was know yourself and seek self-improvement. To be a good evaluator of yourself and to know your weaknesses and know your strengths, and while it’s good to capitalize on the strengths, the weaknesses you have to work on really hard.

[00:36:35] KM: Vince Lombardi said leaders are made. They are not born.

[00:36:41] KP: It’s correct. They are grown, and that’s one of the things that I love about the Army, is how we grow and develop leaders. I’m a classic example of just being the average soldier who grew up in small town U.S.A, who came in the Army, and the Army gave me lots of opportunities. It changed my life. It changed my family’s life.

[00:37:06] KM: If you could do it over again, what would you do different?

[00:37:08] KP: I don’t think I’d change anything. Even now, you look back on the mistakes that you make, one of the things that I love about the Army is you make mistakes, but they pick you up, they dust you off. They say, “Okay. Don’t do that again,” and you learn from those mistakes and you move forward.

As David and I was talking here a few minutes ago, I showed him a picture of me in 1979. I was a tank commander. So what are else in the world where, of course, a tank back then was probably only about $350,000.

[00:37:41] KM: Only.

[00:37:43] KP: Yeah. It’s like about $9 million now for an M1 –

[00:37:46] KM: Are you kidding me? I had no idea.

[00:37:49] KP: But to take a sergeant with four years of experience in the Army and to entrust them with not only that piece of equipment and the value of that piece of equipment, but also to the training and the development of three soldiers, our nation’s youth. It’s just a wonderful opportunity.

As I look across the Army, there’re 150 different career fields, but the professional development of soldiers in the Army is exactly the same. Whether you’re in tanks, you’re in the infantry, or you’re a medic, or you’re a logistician, a supply person. I mean, the development there and how we grow soldiers in the Army is all exactly the same.

[00:38:30] KM: I think you said this a second ago, learning how to manage failures is a part of growth. I think some people don’t grow, because they have this fear of failure that somehow devalues them, when actually it’s your failures that you learn the most from, unfortunately, and learning how to manage those is very important to a leader because they’re going to happen. They happen to everybody who’s trying anything.

[00:39:00] KP: Sure.

[00:39:02] KM: We got to take one more quick break, and when we come back, we’re going to talk with Lt. Col. David Cooper. We’re going to talk and give details about the 40th birthday event coming up for the Arkansas Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army. We’ll be back right after the break.


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[00:40:15] KM: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy and I’m speaking today with the highly decorated and longest running sergeant major of the Army, Kenneth Preston, who coauthored the book Breaching the Summit, and with Lt. Col. David Cooper, President of the Arkansas Association of the United States Army.

Hello, David.

[00:40:34] DC: Hello, Kerry. How are you doing?

[00:40:36] KM: Fine. David was my guest. He’s my reoccurring guest. He was on Up in Your Business with me about a year ago in the month of November, because November is Military Month and I knew David as a friend, and so I asked him to come on. You were in Vietnam, helicopter pilot.

[00:40:52] DC: We talked about Veteran’s Day, 11 November, 11th hour.

[00:40:58] KM: What did you say? Tell me what that means.

[00:41:00] DC: That was the end of World War I. That’s why we served.

[00:41:02] KM: On November 11th, 11th month.

[00:41:04] DC: 11th hour.

[00:41:06] KM: 11th hour.

[00:41:07] DC: 11th day.

[00:41:08] KM: 11th day.

[00:41:08] DC: Armistice Day.

[00:41:10] KM: Armistice Day.

[00:41:10] DC: Then it was changed to Veteran’s Day.

[00:41:13] KM: I forgot that. The Arkansas Chapter of the Association for the United States Army is having its 40th birthday celebration.

[00:41:22] DC: We had a birthday party. Our guest speaker was sergeant major of the Army, Ken Preston, and let me just stop here with that, because I believe in our Army one of the strongest parts of our American Army is our NCOs that are sergeants that we have, and Sergeant Major Preston exemplifies that.

[00:41:43] KM: Absolutely.

[00:41:45] DC: You think this last 35 or whatever, you can see why we are the best Army in the world and it’s because of our NCOs. Talking to soldiers when you talk about their mentors, what they look up to, it’s going to be the sergeant major, whether it’s at the division or the sergeant major of the Army, wherever there’s a sergeant major is, that’s their leader. He was gracious enough to come to our Arkansas and be our guest speaker at our birthday celebration.

[00:42:16] KM: Tell everybody what you told me, the Association of the United States Army is. AUSA. What does it do?

[00:42:26] DC: Well, it’s a professional educational nonprofit, and we support our soldiers, our families both present and past and in the future with our JROTC program. We’re reaching out to the soldiers. We support them in Washington, but here in Arkansas, we support them locally. We have events for our JROTC throughout the year and we work with their summer camp program. We work with the soldiers. We work with the recruiting command here in town. It’s both to educate our civilian life, our people that needed to be educated about the military.

[00:43:06] KM: I went on the – Everything is in acronyms. I said that a couple of times in this interview, and before we went on I’m like, “Gosh! I have to learn all these military acronyms to do this show today.” The AUSA, and it’s a nonprofit educational and professional development association serving Americas total army, our soldiers, Army civilians and their families and our industry partners and supporters. AUSA provides a voice for the Army, supports the soldiers and honors those who have served in order to advance the security of the nation.

Then it had two highlighted mission statements that are AUSA educates its members, the public, industry and congress, which you said you testified in front of congress, about the critical nature of land warfare and the Army’s central role in national defense. Number two, AUSA connects the Army to the American people at the national, regional and chapter level.

David, you’re president of the Arkansas Chapter here.

[00:44:13] DC: You’re right. We support the reserves, active duty and the National Guard.

[00:44:19] KM: Is it only open to Army personnel?

[00:44:23] DC: No. It’s open to everybody. In fact, remember you’re a community partner. Flag and Banner is a community partner.

[00:44:30] KM: Yes, I am.

[00:44:31] DC: You can be a civilian and you can be a military person. The number one thing is you just want to support the military, Army military.

[00:44:39] KM: If you just want to support the Army military, you can be a part of this.

[00:44:42] DC: Yes, you can.

[00:44:43] KM: Are you talking about financially? With your time?

[00:44:49] DC: We have dues, which I want to say they’re very reasonable.

[00:44:53] KM: They are reasonable.

[00:44:54] DC: $20 a year.

[00:44:56] KM: Very reasonable.

[00:44:57] KP: Yeah. What I tell people too is I had a 14-year-old girl scout come up to me after I finished doing a presentation and she said, “I want to join AUSA.” She said, “Can I do that?” I said, “Well, we have two criteria.” I said, “One, if you believe in a strong national defense and you love soldiers, we’ve got a place for you in AUSA.”

With that, I mean, we have – We said the total Army. You got the regular Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. We’re one Army, three components. We’ve got family members. We’ve got retired soldiers. We’ve got veterans. Army civilians is a big part of our Army.

[00:45:37] KM: How do people come out this weekend? How do they find out about it? The website?

[00:45:41] DC: We do have a website.

[00:45:42] KM: We’ll put a link at flagandbanner.com tomorrow. We’ll put a link up.

[00:45:45] DC: We have a Facebook page.

[00:45:47] KM: Do you have a Facebook page?

[00:45:47] DC: Yes we do, and we can link you up that way and put it on Flag & Banner.

[00:45:51] KM: We’ll put the Facebook page and we’ll put the link to a registration form or just show up?

[00:45:56] DC: On that link, you’ll be able to – Registration form.

[00:46:00] KM: We’re running out of time. I have enjoyed talking to y’all.

[00:46:02] KP: Well, thank you for what you do.

[00:46:04] KM: Oh, you’re welcome. I have so enjoyed it. I’ve got a present for you. Sergeant Major Preston. It’s a desk set.

[00:46:09] KP: Oh, this is very nice. I knew you’d put a Maryland flag.

[00:46:11] KM: With a Maryland flag. It’s a desk set. U.S. Army and a Maryland flag, because you’re from Maryland. David, you already had those, I think

[00:46:17] DC: I did. You took care of it.

[00:46:19] KM: But I still brought you something. It’s a little token we sell at Arkansas Flag & Banner. It’s just a small paperweight that says, “With service before self. Honor, courage and loyalty. Soldiers defend our way of life. Protecting freedom for you and me.” That’s your little gift.

[00:46:33] DC: Thank you. That’s very cool.

[00:46:35] KM: You’re very welcome. Thanks again for joining me and my guest today. For those listeners who might have a great entrepreneurial story they’d like to share, send a brief bio and your contact info to me, Kerry@flagandbanner.com and someone will be in touch.

To all, thank you for spending time with us. We hope you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening, and if you haven’t, you hadn’t been listening, and that it, whatever it is will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business.

Until then, be brave and keep it up.


[00:47:08] GM: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show, go to flagandbanner.com, select Radio Show and choose today’s guest. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Subscribe to podcast wherever you like to listen.

Kerry’s goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.


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