Preston: Our Army must remain the best army in the world
Greetings from the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), our Army’s and our soldiers’ professional organization.
I recently had the opportunity to visit AUSA’s First Militia Chapter located in St. Augustine, Fla.
St. Augustine is our nation’s oldest city, dating back to 1565, and the First Militia Chapter pays tribute to those who served in our nation’s first militia.
St. Francis Barracks today serves as the headquarters for the Florida adjutant general and principle staff of the Florida National Guard.
This historic building has an impressive museum that captures the history of St. Augustine, the role of the original militia and the contributions of the soldiers serving today in the United States Army.
I had the honor of touring and spending time at Camp Blanding and the Army National Guard’s Regional Training Institute (RTI).
The visit reaffirmed, in my mind, the talent of our Army leadership across all components of our Army and the significant contributions they make to the Army mission and the security of our nation.
Given the opportunity to address the students and the training academy’s cadre, I was able to recognize the contributions of the Florida National Guard.
Having served with the 53rd Infantry Brigade in Iraq in 2003, I related to the audience the missions and contributions the soldiers of the brigade made during their deployment.
I watched all three battalions of the 124th Infantry Regiment perform their missions in Iraq with pride and dedication.
As I told the audience, what made me very proud was the brigade’s performance not long after they returned from Iraq in providing humanitarian relief and security for the business districts in the aftermath of the 2004 hurricanes.
As the sergeant major of the Army, I watched the Florida National Guard in the performance of its duties during the daily operation updates in the Pentagon and on television as a first responder force.
It was obvious these soldiers were seasoned professionals based on their personal appearance, their individual conduct and the unit’s actions on the ground.
I also talked about the linkage between standards and discipline at the small unit level, and how the Army grows leaders as part of this process.
First, the Army establishes standards at the Department of the Army level in the form of regulations that will subsequently go down to the unit level in the form of standard operating procedures (SOPs).
With many of the students in the academy attending the Warrior Leader Course, we had a great discussion about the purpose of Army Regulation 670-1, which addresses the wear and appearance of Army uniforms and grooming standards.
We also talked about established standards like weapons clearing procedures, the use of the Operator’s Manual in performing Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services and safety – like wearing seatbelts.
Second, it is the first line leader, the corporal or the sergeant, who is empowered to enforce these standards on their piece of the Army – their two or three soldiers.
With the majority of the audience either serving or soon to be serving in a first-line leader positions, this discussion was more personal.
And third, we hold our sergeants accountable for those soldiers who do not demonstrate or live up to the standard.
I used this basic discussion of standards and discipline to provide some observations and experiences I’ve seen as a soldier in a variety of organizations.
The final message was the need for leaders at all levels to "lead by example" and serve as a role model for all those first line leaders.
The audience then asked questions on any subject they wanted to discuss.
Questions ranged from the transition of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System across the Army, to the design of the new Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report, to the future of tuition assistance funding, to individual equipment and uniforms.
From the context and focus of the questions asked by these young leaders, the future interest in our professional development program was evident.
As part of these discussions, I knew the students were very aware of sequestration, the drawdown of the active force and the impacts on their organizational funding.
I thank Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Hosford, the Florida National Guard state command sergeant major, for sponsoring my visit to Camp Blanding and the command.
Special thanks also to Col. William LeFevre, RTI commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. James Kendrick, RTI CSM, for giving me the opportunity to visit with their soldiers and leaders.
That evening I spoke at the chapter’s quarterly membership dinner held in the NCO Club of the Mark Lance Armory.
The at-capacity audience was a mix of currently-serving and retired Army, Army civilians, family members, friends and corporate sponsors.
The dinner audience was enthusiastic and those in attendance who were not members at the start of the dinner were members of the Association of the United States Army before they departed the event.
They were also committed to speaking out on the dangers of sequestration and its adverse impact on our Army.
I also recognized the chapter leadership, including chapter president Col. Daniel Johnson for his invitation, and Lt. Col. Robert Keating, Sgt. Maj. Ray Quinn and Sgt. Maj. Beverly Arena for all their volunteer efforts in taking care of soldiers and their families.
While the highlight of the evening for me was meeting the patriotic and dedicated members of the First Militia Chapter, it also provided me with an opportunity to provide an update of our Army.
I highlighted the 140,000 soldiers either forward deployed or forward stationed all around the world.
The Florida National Guard is no stranger to deployments and has contributed significantly to our nation’s defense over the past 13 years.
The focus of my message was sequestration – its history, the fiscal impacts to date and the future.
The message I left with the audience and all the soldiers and leaders in attendance was to reflect on the efforts, the work and the commitment soldiers and their families have made to build our Army and our relationships across all its components over the last 13 years.
Additionally, while sequestration is the root of all challenges we face, we must work tirelessly to ensure our Army, regardless of size, remains the best in the world.
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.
Keep America’s Army Strong!
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Still Serving, Still Saluting!