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SMA observes training, discusses transformation

Story and photo by Lori Bultman/Fort Jackson Leader

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (TRADOC News Service, Aug. 11, 2005) – Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston visited Fort Jackson last week, observing Soldiers-in-training and speaking to troops about Army Transformation, new uniforms and other issues.

Preston visited 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment’s contemporary operating environment site Aug. 4, where – amid gunfire and “Iraqis” shouting “Go home, America” – 1st Sgt. Edward Martin, Company D, 2nd Bn., 13th Inf. Regt., briefed him on the training scenario. Set up to portray a town in Iraq, civilians played soccer between makeshift buildings while Soldiers “overtook” the camp.

Preston also visited Soldiers participating in the Victory Forge field training exercise.

Troops gathered at the Solomon Center for a Soldiers’ forum Aug. 5. Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis M. King introduced Preston, who spoke to the troops for about an hour, followed by a question-and-answer session.

His focus for most of the forum was the ongoing Transformation of the Army and the three strategic-level initiatives involved with the Transformation. The first initiative involves the number of brigade combat teams. The second is rebalancing the force. And the third initiative involves growing the Army’s endstrength.

“I think this transformation the Army is going through is very important. It is the largest change in our structure since World War II,” Preston said. “From a strategic perspective, it is very important to our mission.”

Preston believes the transformation will help today’s forces be better prepared for conflicts around the globe. And he gave credit to the National Guard and Reserve units for their part in current operations.

“We could not do what we are doing right now as an Army if it wasn’t for the Guard and Reserves,” he said. But changes are on the way.

“We are going to be more expeditionary and able to get to the fight quicker,” he said.

One of the changes Transformation is bringing is more predictability and stability for Soldiers and their families. Preston sees the goal of having a predictable and stable lifestyle, as opposed to moving every two or three years or deploying to a combat zone every other year, which are necessary for today’s volunteer force.

“We know this is the first time in our nation’s history we have ever sustained a long-duration fight with an all-volunteer force,” he said. “We are all here because we said we wanted to be here; we are all volunteers. If a unit spends a year deployed, they have got at least two years back at home station before they deploy again.”

A big part of making this happen is more boots on the ground and lifecycle management, Preston said.

That involves building the size of the deployable force.

Preston said it is the brigade combat teams within the divisions that are the workhorses.

“Come the end of 2006, we are going to grow the Army from 33 to 43 brigades. By 2010, the Army will be totally transformed,” he said.

Growing the force is also an important part of the initiative.

“Our goal is to grow by 30,000 (Soldiers) as quick as we can,” Preston said. Part of that includes the military-to-civilian conversions to move Soldiers back into deployable units.

Retention is also a key to reaching the force-growth goal. He said the Army has bumped up the retention goals over the last several years, and the unit leaders have kept up with the increases.

Recruiting is also a factor, and Preston sees recruiting as being on track to make the annual goal of 80,000, which has been bumped up from previous years’ goals as well. The recruiting goals for June and July were exceeded, he said.

Preston continued by describing the plan for the new lifecycle-management way of running the BCTs, which will help Soldiers and their families have more predictability and stability.

Soldiers will not PCS during the three-year lifecycle of a BCT, he said. Fourteen to 16 brigades will start a new lifecycle each year.

“Imagine going into a unit, knowing that the start date, going all the way up to the end of that lifecycle, you know when that unit is going to deploy. It is part of a planned rotation, say going into Iraq.

“The idea is that ... you spend one year in Kuwait, you’ve got at least two years back at your duty station. For the Guard and Reserve, it is a five- and six-year lifecycle. For the Reserve, it is one year out of five, and for the Guard it is one year out of six for deployments. That is predictability,” Preston said.

He reinforced the fact that Soldiers know if they are with a unit, they are going to be with them for 36 months.

When the floor opened for questions, the first Soldier to speak up asked about the wear-out date on the battle dress uniform.

Preston said the new Army combat uniform will be available at clothing sales in January 2006.

He said there seems to be a concern about the cost of the uniform, but the annual clothing allowance should be enough to cover the cost. He said the new uniform does not require patches to be sewn on, and they can be removed easily. The pockets were moved up so Soldiers can use them while wearing body armor, and the uniform is not to be taken to the cleaners for starching.

Soldiers will not be required to have the two sets of uniforms and one pair of boots until summer 2007 and the second set of boots until spring or summer of 2008.

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