GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley made his final visit to Germany this week, bidding adieu to the troops and asking them to stay focused on the war on terrorism.

The Army’s top noncommissioned officer spoke with soldiers from 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment as they took a break from tank gunnery training at the Grafenwöhr Training Area on Thursday.

“I want to thank you guys for what you’re doing … and stay focused,” Tilley said. “Everything you do out here [during training at Grafenwöhr] will prevent you from getting killed in war.”

Tilley, who will retire in mid-January after 35 years of service, also spoke about the importance of making financial preparations for the day the soldiers eventually leave the Army, whether through retirement or separation.

He spoke briefly about some of his duties as the Army’s top enlisted soldier, a position he has held since June 2000.

He said one of his most significant duties is presenting issues that affect soldiers to Congress twice a year.

“I generally take four to five issues to Congress each time, and the primary one is almost always increasing pay and benefits for soldiers,” he said.

After he spoke, Tilley took questions from the soldiers, including ones on future restructuring of bases and forces in Europe, quality of life for soldiers deployed for the war on terrorism and civilian education issues.

He said he couldn’t comment on restructuring and quality of life, since those are secretary of defense issues. But he stressed that soldiers should find a way to take college courses while in the Army.

While 330,000 soldiers deployed to more than 120 locations, Tilley said, many of those troops may have to pursue their education through distance-learning programs, where soldiers can take classes online or through teleconferencing.

Roughly one-fourth of the total Army, including members of the Reserves and National Guard, is currently deployed, he said.

“We are spread a little thin right now, and the secretary of defense is looking at that,” Tilley said. “The Army is the workhorse of the nation now.”

However, he said he doesn’t think morale of deployed troops has dropped.

“One of the things I do is talk to soldiers — collect issues they are concerned about and check on morale,” he said. “Morale is not down, and the soldiers continue to work as hard as they can.”

Tilley’s Europe visit included a trip to Italy on Friday. He plans to go to Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina next week.

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