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Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston talks with Family Readiness Group Co-Leader Shelby Barrett during his visit with family members from V Corps’ 1st Armored Division at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield, Germany, May 4.
Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston talks with Family Readiness Group Co-Leader Shelby Barrett during his visit with family members from V Corps’ 1st Armored Division at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield, Germany, May 4. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

WüRZBURG, Germany — Barely three months after wrapping up a four-year assignment to Germany, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston visited with hundreds of soldiers Wednesday during a quick tour of German bases.

He attended a memorial service in Baumholder Wednesday morning for eight 1st Armored Division soldiers killed in a suicide attack last week. Later in the day, he talked up the Army’s transformation program during stops at Wiesbaden and Würzburg, headquarters, respectively, of the 1st Armored and 1st Infantry Divisions. Both divisions currently are serving in Iraq, their German bases staffed by skeleton rear detachments.

“Transformation is good," Preston told an audience of about 150 officers, noncommissioned officers and spouses in Würzburg. "It means predictability and stability for all of you.”

Preston said he could not shed light on the future of specific European bases. He said no final decisions will be made until after the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommends what stateside bases to close late next year.

Preston took over the Army’s top enlisted office just three months ago, after a hitch as command sergeant major for Heidelberg-based V Corps. He spent the last year of his tour in Iraq. He praised the efforts of the troops in that theater at stabilizing Iraq, even in the face of increasing attacks on U.S. forces.

“Soldiers down there are really making a difference,” Preston said. “We’ve made a lot of friends. … The soldiers who are down there right now are stopping those thugs from having their way.”

Several soldiers and spouses asked whether anything could be done about the oppressive operations tempo that has forced thousands of soldiers to serve back-to-back Middle East tours and threatens to separate military families for years on end.

Preston said his office is trying to increase the number of soldiers who rotate from units in the Middle East to stateside teaching positions instead of to other combat units bound for Iraq or Afghanistan. But he admitted the deployment cycle isn’t likely to change much until Iraq becomes more stable.

“All 10 divisions are very, very busy right now,” Preston said. “There’s nothing really good to tell here. It’s a huge vicious cycle.”

Soldiers, officers and spouses said that they appreciated Preston’s willingness to talk about problems although he couldn’t offer much hope of relief to some of the Army families’ most pressing concerns.

“For someone who has been on the job for 90 days, he’s quite in tune with what the issues are,” said Capt. Laura Poston, inspector general for the 98th Area Support Group in Würzburg. “He had answers for everything that were reasonable.”

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