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Join AUSA for education, professional development, mentorship

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Greetings from the Association of the United States Army, our Army’s association for education and professional development, and a major supporter of the Army’s Soldier for Life efforts.

As we begin a new year, let’s renew the discussion on why it is important to be part of the Association of the United States Army.

For all of us who are AUSA members, this discussion is a no-brainer.

But from a captain’s or sergeant’s perspective, we are compelled to ask: What is the value of being a member of the Association of the United States Army, and what do I or my soldiers get from becoming a member?

This summer, your Association of the United States Army will turn 69 years old.

To appreciate the decision made by then-Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Wade H. Haislip and the Army leadership to stand up AUSA in July 1950, you have to stand in the foxhole of those senior Army leaders and survey the Army and our time as a nation through their eyes, at that moment in time.

To appreciate the decision of our senior Army leaders in 1950, let’s first cast our minds back to 1917-18 and the U.S. Army’s involvement in World War I.

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During WWI, the Army grew from less than 200,000 troops to 4 million. (U.S. Army photo)

Over the last two years, 2017-18, our nation celebrated the 100th anniversary of WWI.

During WWI, we grew our Army from less than 200,000 Regular Army troops to 4 million in uniform, with approximately 2.5 million of these soldiers deploying overseas in support of combat operations.

It was during this growth of our Army where most of our divisions today were created.

The 1st Infantry Division, “The Big Red One,” as an example, was the first division, while the 2nd Infantry Division, “Second to None,” was the second division.

We celebrated the 100th anniversary of these divisions and our U.S. Army Tank Corps, which started in Bourg, France, on Nov. 10, 1917, these past two years.

WWI developed and brought forward the future leaders of WWII, leaders like Marshall, Patton, MacArthur, Haislip, Eisenhower, and many other leaders who trained, organized and commanded Army units in combat and training units at home.

While WWI was asserted to be the war to end all wars, a league of nations formed an alliance to prevent future wars, negating the need for a large, standing Army.

Following WWI, the Regular Army returned to a force of less than 200,000.

The tank corps dissolved and, by law, small numbers of tanks were assigned to infantry units until 1928, when tanks were mothballed and later sold for scrap after the Wall Street collapse and the economic crisis and Great Depression that followed.

On Sept. 8, 1939, when the German army invaded Poland, the strength of our Regular Army was approximately 174,000. The Army National Guard was 200,000-strong, and there was an Organized Reserve force of 100,000 soldiers who were primarily Reserve Officer Training Corps graduates focused principally on supporting mobilization training.

One week after the swift mechanized invasion of Poland, President Roosevelt declared a limited national emergency and began increasing the strength of the Regular Army to 227,000.

With the war growing in Europe, the U.S. government approved the Selective Service Act in September 1940, authorizing the total Army to increase to 1.4 million—500,000 Regulars, 270,000 Guardsmen and 630,000 Selectees.

Future Sgt. Maj. of the Army William O. Wooldridge enlisted into the Army on Nov. 11, 1940, as part of this growth and was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division.

Between WWI and 1940, the nation invested minimally in weapons technology, keeping pace with near-pear armies of the world. The 1st Armored Division, “Old Ironsides,” our first armored division, mobilized in July 1940 at Fort Knox, Ky.

For the next two years, the division, in its infancy, would develop, test and field more than 600 combat vehicles and tank weapons, and the tactics and doctrine leaders needed to train the force.

These two years of training enabled “Old Ironsides” to develop and grow a new cohort of officers and noncommissioned officers that would be needed for the expansion of the armored force.

But it was now too late. Other armies of the world invested heavily in the years prior in technology and mechanized warfare.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, immediately put our nation at war with the Empire of Japan.

One week later, Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States.

At war with two countries far more advanced then the American Army, our soldiers were now in a position where they were technically and tactically disadvantaged and underequipped.

Meanwhile, in December 1941, Wooldridge was assigned to detached service with British forces in Iceland and, the following year, reassigned to Company K, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division as they arrived in England in August 1942.

The 1st Armored Division deployed to Northern Ireland on May 16, 1942, where they trained on the moors for a possible deployment before moving to England on Oct. 29, 1942.

While the 1ID and 1AD prepared for possible deployment, a young man named Jonah Edward Kelley, Eddie Kelley to his friends at home, attended Potomac State College, where he played football.

Kelley was born in Rada, W.V., and graduated in 1941 from high school in Keyser, W.V., before heading off to college.

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Jonah Edward Kelley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions during WWII.

After training in England, the “Big Red One” departed Oct. 22, 1942, for a combat amphibious assault of North Africa.

The 1st Armored Division also deployed to North Africa, arriving with the 1st Infantry Division in November 1942.

Wooldridge, long after retirement, talked about how each of his soldiers were issued only one magazine of ammunition when they landed in North Africa, and as they exited the landing craft, they went in the wrong direction initially before turning around.

Today, the 27-acre North Africa American Cemetery in Tunisia contains 2,841 Americans, many from the 1ID and 1AD, who died during the North Africa campaign, principally in America’s first fight with Rommel’s German forces.

Meanwhile, back home, Kelley, in his second year of college, was drafted and assigned to the 78th “Lightning” Division based in Camp Butner, N.C.

The Army, between 1940 and 1945, would grow from 200,000 to 8 million soldiers by the end of the war.

The 78th Lightning Division served for two years as a training division.

The role of a training division was to train, equip and prepare those new recruits for service in combat units for what our nation needed them to do.

Pvt. Kelley rose to the rank of sergeant almost immediately because of his education—he could read and write—and because of his sports experiences in high school and college, he was a natural leader.

In a letter that Sgt. Kelley wrote to his friend Harry Thomas while stationed at Camp Butner, on June 7, 1943, he talked about his squad leader being away for a week and how he had to take charge of the 12 men in his squad.

Kelley talked about the challenges of teaching them while he was just learning himself.

This is leadership. He did not back away from the task at hand. He accepted the responsibility and focused on getting it done.

The Army learned many tough lessons and eventually defeated Rommel’s forces and moved on to Western Europe.

Wooldridge served with his division throughout WWII, assigned to an infantry rifle company.

At the rank of sergeant and serving as a squad leader, Wooldridge would lead his soldiers through the D-Day landing and throughout the remainder of WWII, attaining the rank of first sergeant at the war’s end.

After two years as a training division, the “Lightning Division” was selected to deploy to the European Theater. After manning and equipping themselves for combat, the division, with no combat experience, sailed for England on Oct. 14, 1944, and crossed into France on Nov. 22, 1944.

Once in France, the division moved east to Belgium, where they became very engaged with the Battle of Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge.

While the Battle of the Bulge officially ended on Jan. 25, 1945, the Lightning Division continued the fight, pushing eastward into Germany.

Just across the Belgian border, in the German town of Kesternich, Staff Sgt. Kelley led his squad through intense house-to-house fighting.

On Jan. 30, 1945, Kelley was wounded twice.

With his left hand completely disabled, he declined medical evacuation and continued to lead his soldiers.

The following day, during another intense battle, his squad was pinned down. Staff Sgt. Kelley single-handedly advanced through heavy machine gun fire to destroy the enemy position.

As his squad advanced, another enemy machine gun position stopped his soldiers in place. It was during this second single-handed assault that Staff Sgt. Kelley was killed.

For these actions, Staff Sgt. Jonah Edward Kelley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Sept. 10, 1945.

Kelley barracks in Stuttgart, home of U.S. Africa Command, is named in his honor.

Each of these individual stories and thousands more could have been told by the Army leaders who fought during WWII as they viewed the Army drawdown in 1950. The cost of unpreparedness and the need to grow, train and equip an Army in a short period of time to defend our freedom, was paid for with the lives of young Americans.

During the drawdown of the Army in the years following WWII, branch affiliated associations told their soldier stories in a push to advocate for why each of their career fields needed to remain strong.

While all these associations and their leadership meant well, they focused on not repeating history again with an Army that was too small, not trained and not prepared for the future.

Haislip brought the infantry and artillery associations together to form the Association of the United States Army, with a mission to serve as a voice for the Army and support for the soldier.

The legacy of your association continues today, with more than 136,000 members, partnerships with 10 professional associations, more than 2,700 community partners, and more than 500 national partners.

Serving as a professional development and educational association, the Association of the United States Army is focused on leadership, education, professional development and mentorship.

Junior and mid-grade leaders often ask me if they should become involved in an Army, military or veteran service organization.

My short answer is yes.

Whether these leaders are Army National Guard, Army Reserve or Regular Army, I always say yes. Get involved!

Soldier- and leader-focused organizations are a great place to meet new friends, stay active in your military and civilian communities and learn a little more about something of interest to you.

The Association of the United States Army’s emerging leader and young professional focus is targeted at junior and mid-grade officers, noncommissioned officers and Army civilians.

AUSA’s chapters serve as the interface between the Army and the local communities surrounding our military bases. The 123 chapters provide opportunities for our members to volunteer alongside many corporate sponsors and businesses throughout the community, with a focus on supporting the total Army and our soldiers, Army Civilians, and their families in the Army National Guard, Army Reserve and the Regular Army.

All the members and chapter leaders of an AUSA chapter are volunteers.

These volunteers have jobs. They are soldiers, family members, veterans and others with immense responsibilities, but they chose to volunteer and give of themselves to those who serve our nation and our Army.

So, the great advantage of associations is everyone who volunteers a little gains much more back in fellowship, connections, communication, education and mentoring.

These volunteer opportunities provide young and older retiring professionals with the opportunity to network and build relationships in preparation for their transition into the civilian sector. Everyone in uniform, at some point in his or her career, must transition to a new chapter of life outside the Army.

Employers today look for professionals who can multi-task or do multiple types of jobs and tasks.

Employers also look for professionals who thrive and excel in what many might consider busy lives, and even stressful environments.

The secret for emerging leaders and young professionals is their gradual growth and involvement in education and professional organizations above and beyond their daily jobs.

Becoming part of and contributing to a professional organization is a great addition to any resume and provides the opportunity to gain some real-world experience beyond any military occupational specialty. Think of these opportunities as going to school and learning from others and learning by participating.

Serving in leadership or committee positions further demonstrates your abilities to efficiently and effectively prioritize tasks, manage time and see projects through to completion.

Staying engaged in community-based activities beyond your daily job allows you to learn broadening skills that will make you smarter and wiser.

Learning and growing in one’s profession continues through the network of professionals and mentors you meet and learn from along life’s journey.

The reason we have the greatest Army in the world is because we have the greatest soldiers.

The legacy of service of each of our veterans who have worn the uniform of a soldier is passed on from one generation to the next.

So, if you are on the fence and not sure if you should join the Association of the United States Army, check us out at www.ausa.org.

The experiences will be worth the hassle, and you’ll come out with lasting memories and a host of newly acquired skills.

Now more than ever, America’s Army needs AUSA, and AUSA needs your membership support.

Membership is the volume knob to ensure your voice is amplified many times over and heard throughout the halls of Congress, from sea to shining sea across this country, and throughout every small town and community in between.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, USA retired, is AUSA Vice President for NCO and Soldier Programs and was the 13th Sergeant Major of the Army.