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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth O. Preston of V Corps will become the sergeant major of the army in January.

Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker made the announcement Tuesday.

Preston, 46, who is now serving in Iraq, will replace Jack Tilley, the current sergeant major of the Army. The Pentagon will hold a swearing-in ceremony Jan. 15 for Preston. He will be the 13th person to hold the position.

“The announcement came as a surprise,” Preston said in a statement released by the Army. “You always assess yourself as being a little more qualified than some and not as qualified as others. I am very excited about the selection and look forward to the challenges ahead.”

In April 2001, Preston began serving with V Corps in Heidelberg. This year, the unit conducted combat operations in Iraq and now makes up the bulk of Combined Joint Task Force 7 headquartered in Baghdad, Iraq.

“He is an outstanding choice,” Tilley said. “He brings a great deal of experience to the table and will do great things for our Army.”

Tilley enlisted in 1966, the same year the Army established the rank of sergeant major of the Army. He first served as a tanker in Vietnam. He will retire to Tampa, Fla., to be with his family.

In his new job, Preston will serve as Schoomaker’s personal adviser on enlisted-related matters. Schoomaker called him recently and said they have “a lot of work ahead,” Preston said.

Traditionally, the role involves extensive travel and focuses on soldier training, noncommissioned officer development and the well-being of families.

Based on discussions with troops, the sergeant major of the Army recommends quality-of-life improvements to Army leadership and often sits on councils that make decisions affecting enlisted soldiers and their families.

A native of Mount Savage, Md., Preston joined the Army in 1975 and has served in every enlisted leadership position from tank commander to command sergeant major. Before V Corps, Preston served as the senior enlisted soldier for the 1st Armored Division.

Preston said he regrets leaving troops behind in Iraq.

His awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, one Bronze Star Medal, four Meritorious Service medals, six Army Commendation medals, three Army Achievement medals, a Southwest Asia Service Ribbon, Liberation of Kuwait Ribbon (Saudi Arabia), a Kosovo Medal, the NATO Medal and the Joint Meritorious Unit Award.

He and his wife, Karen, have three children: Valerie, Kenneth and Michael.

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