Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston Visits Frostburg State

Sgt. Major Preston Gives Keynote Speech to Faculty and Staff Conference

On Wednesday, April 12, Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston gave the keynote speech at the Faculty and Staff Development Conference.

Sergeant Major Kenneth Preston is a graduate from Mt. Savage High School, who grew up in the Western Maryland region.  He enlisted in the Army in 1975 to then become the 13th ever Sergeant Major in the United States Army.

He told his story of how he decided to enlist.  It was in his senior year of high school that he started thinking about what he wanted to do after graduation.  He initially thought that he wanted to follow in his fathers footsteps as a tin smith.  “I was good at architectural drawings and art, so I thought I would like to be an architect,” said Preston.  He also knew that he wasn’t going to get a scholarship, or make money playing football, so he turned to the military.

He intended to simply do his four years and get out, but he fell in love with the Army.  The Army is “people-centric just like the university.”  For Preston, going into the Army was a personal choice.

His first assignment was Ft. Hood, Texas as a private.  He arrived in November of 1975; his background was in tanks.  Preston referenced the movie Fury to describe what his job was like: “I was Sergeant Brad Pitt.”  As he mastered skills and became a trusted member of the Army, he moved his way up through the ranks.

Cody Bowers and Vanessa Robinson of Student Veterans of American presenting Sergeant Major Preston with a small gift. (TBL/Nicole Leighty)
Cody Bowers and Vanessa Robinson of Student Veterans of American presenting Sergeant Major Preston with a small gift. (TBL/Nicole Leighty)

As his four years came close to ending, the Army “threw a curve ball” with assignment instructions to go to Germany.  He was left with the decision to either go on his own without his children and wife, or to re-enlist.  He decided to re-enlist, and he gave the present faculty and staff his three reasons why he wanted to re-enlist.  First, command climate; he wanted to be a part of the team, to be a part of something bigger than himself.  Second, job satisfaction; he was given responsibility, and he was trusted, and those qualities made him enjoy what he did everyday.  Third, quality of life; he was able to enjoy work everyday, pursue his goals, and provide for his family.

Preston continued to talk about how to grow leaders; it is a three step process. 1) Establish a standard 2) Put someone in charge of those standards 3) Hold that person accountable for the standards.  He explained that not only does this process grow a capable leader, but it establishes discipline too.  “In my mind everything in the Army has a standard,” said Preston.

He went on to explain that the Army has 11 principles of leadership, in which nine of the 11 deal with communication.  These 11 principles of leadership define what a leader should be, what they should know, and what they should do.  After studying and becoming familiar with the principles, “I felt empowered,” said Preston.

Sergeant Major Preston talked about applying leadership skills, and the most important pillar of those skills.  In his opinion, the most important was on-the-job learning.  He stressed the importance of tying all of the pillars of being a leader together in order to see success in the institution.

At the end of his keynote session, he took questions from the faculty and staff.  Robert Spahr asked to touch on introverted leaders versus extroverted leaders.  Preston talked about how to make introverted leaders stronger, and how to make extroverted leaders understand.  A Cumberland Times-News representative asked if Preston if he learned anything valuable from growing up in Western Maryland, and Preston answered, “I grew up with a strong work ethic.”

After all questions were answered, the President and Vice President of Student Veterans of America, Cody Bowers and Vanessa Robinson, presented Sergeant Major Preston with a small token of appreciation.

The faculty and staff development conference was held the rest of the day with breakout sessions focussing on improving in different areas, along with a variety of topics being covered.

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