The American Soldier-The Centerpiece of the Army

By Preston, Kenneth O. | Army, October 2004 | Go to article overview

The American Soldier-The Centerpiece of the Army


Preston, Kenneth O., Army


You cannot help but be moved by the daily accomplishments of U.S. Army soldiers around the world. I know I get more amazed by their will, their ingenuity and their dedication every single time I shake a hand or talk to a young soldier serving in harm's way.

For more than a year in Kuwait and Iraq, I saw their spirit in action. I watched young noncommissioned officers make split-second decisions that could have strategic implications. Throughout the world, America's best is on display. You do not get to read about it in newspapers or see it on the nightly news, but they are making a difference.

As I traveled around the globe this past year as Sergeant Major of the Army and as Command Sergeant Major of Combined Joint Task Force-7 in Iraq, people always asked me, "Are we really making a difference, and can we bring democracy to societies that have no concept of it?"

I tell them to take a look at Europe in 1939. How many true democracies were in place then? American soldiers made democracy the norm in Europe today.

The "greatest generation" defeated tyranny and helped set up a model democracy in Germany. It was that government and our will that helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989 and open the floodgates of freedom. In the past 15 years, the former East bloc nations behind the Iron Curtain have become free and democratic. Today, many of them are the newest members of the European Union. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have joined NATO. Europe has become a safer place-thanks to the American soldier.

I see similar prospects for Iraq and Afghanistan thanks to what I call the next "greatest generation." Today's soldiers are carrying on the tradition and honor of their parents and grandparents. Each member of the Army family should be very proud of what the Army is contributing to our nation's defense in the global war on terrorism.

Every day, I saw countless examples of courage and compassion. Despite the threat posed by terrorists determined not to allow Iraqis to build a future, soldiers worked to build schools, dig wells, rebuild factories, and replace fear and oppression with hope and freedom.

Soldiers have helped open 2,300 schools, 240 hospitals, 1,200 medical clinics and have secured more than 3 million metric tons of food for the Iraqi people. More than 90 percent of Iraqi children now receive immunizations. Soldiers have helped train more than 200,000 Iraqi security force members. This is the difference you do not see on television.

These soldiers represent all that is good about America. They come from all walks of life. They are husbands, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, friends and children. They well deserved to be named Time magazine's "Person of the Year."

Right now the American soldier is incredibly busy. The Army currently has more than 350,000 soldiers forward deployed around the world in more than 120 nations. In addition, the Army has had more than 250,000 soldiers transitioning from Operation Iraqi Freedom-1 (OIF-1) to OIF-2 in the largest deployment and redeployment operation since World War II.

On a recent visit to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., I spent time with several groups of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized). The unit had just been notified that they would deploy as part of OIF-3. Many of the soldiers already had "Rock of the Marne" patches on their right shoulders. They had seen combat up close and personal.

Thanks to their personal experiences, they took every bit of the training seriously and prepared their newest members for the dangers that they would face. Nobody likes to leave a family behind and go to war. Each of these combat veterans, however, told me that they were prepared to go off and accomplish the mission.

In Korea, I visited soldiers from 2nd Infantry Division and troops stationed in the joint security area inside the demilitarized zone. They stare in the faces of their adversaries every day. …

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