Departing AUSA is ‘bittersweet’

Saturday, June 01, 2013

It was a Friday.

I remember because it was exactly one week after my military retirement ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C.

I was "in processing" here at AUSA national headquarters, and although it seems like it was only yesterday – it was in fact 20 years ago.

I was being briefed on my duties and responsibilities as the new AUSA Director of NCO and Soldier Programs.

The then-vice president of the Association’s Institute of Land Warfare was telling me that one of the many things I was required to do was to write a monthly column for AUSA NEWS.

He paused briefly and opined that the two easiest articles I would write would be the first one and the last one. He was half right.

Saying hello was easy; not so with goodbye.

By the time you read this, the torch will have been passed and my successor will be on board.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army (Retired) Ken and Karen Preston, a great Army family, will have joined the AUSA team. And, Ken will be receiving his "in-briefing" as the new Director of NCO and Soldier Programs.

Ken 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 that position.

Preston, a native of Mount Savage, Md., entered the Army on June 30, 1975.

Throughout his 36-year career, he served in every enlisted leadership position from cavalry scout and tank commander to the position of Sergeant Major of the Army.

Other assignments he held as command sergeant major were 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; 3rd "Grey Wolf" Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division; 1st Armored Division, Bad Kreuznach, Germany; and V Corps, Heidelberg, Germany.

His military education includes the Basic Noncommissioned Officers Course; Advanced Noncommissioned Officers Course; First Sergeants Course; M1/M1A1 Tank Master Gunner Course; Master Fitness Trainer Course; Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officers’ Course; and the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy.

Preston holds a Master’s Degree in business administration from Trident University International.

In 2011, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy Hall of Honor.

After retiring from the Army, Preston served as the President for Homes for Our Troops from February 2012 to January 2013.

Homes for Our Troops is a nonprofit organization specializing in building specially adapted homes that are provided at no cost to our most severely wounded veterans and their families.

He and his wife, Karen, have three adult children, Valerie, Kenny, and Michael and six grandchildren.

They are a welcome addition to the AUSA team and I have every confidence that they will do well.

The good news is that Ken will have Command Sgt. Maj. Don Thomas, USA, Ret., at his side.

Don, besides being the brother I never had, is a true AUSA treasure. Together, he and Ken will take the AUSA NCO team to the next level.

We will need their steady hands to help guide the NCO Corps through the challenging times ahead.

The bad news is the unquestioned MVP of the NCO team, Linda Engel is also moving on and, unlike me, will be very difficult to replace.

As I embark on the final chapter of the lifelong love affair with all things Army, I have a great deal for which to be thankful.

It has been a great ride.

My legacy should be that I left it better than I found it. That’s what I was trying to do; but that is for others to decide.

If I am remembered, I hope it is because I took great pride in the fact that I was an American Soldier – a noncommissioned officer.

My greatest achievement in life was talking Susan into marrying me 45 years ago which led to my greatest joy in life, my two brilliant, gorgeous daughters –Melissa and Michelle – their husbands, Ronald Grubbs and Christopher Pearson, and five equally gorgeous and brilliant grandchildren, Spencer, Polly, Christian, Atticus and Nora.

Departing AUSA after 20 years of serving with a team of committed professionals is bittersweet.

I have enjoyed my time here and will miss working with the AUSA team starting with our leader, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan down to the last person in the chain of command (whoever that is).

And, most of all, I will miss asking myself at the end of the day: "What have I done for our soldiers today?"

To America’s Army’s NCO Corps, past and present and future – thank you for your selfless service to the nation; thank you for training, leading, and caring for our great soldiers; and thank you for your enduring support of the Association of the United States Army.

And, most of all, I am thankful for all the friends I have made along the way.

My plans for retirement include being a part time golfer and a full time grandpa. Spoiling my grandchildren is my job and I take my job seriously.

After over 50 years of being in and around America’s Army I assure you that AUSA is in my DNA. I intend to stay active with AUSA at both the national and chapter levels.

As my good friend Marvin Hill was fond of saying: "Everyone has to believe in something. I choose AUSA."

Call me if you need me.

Still Serving!