6:14 | Growing up with both parents as Marines, Christina Cross grew up with a military influence in her family that caused her to want to join. Living on a military base as a kid was very influential for her and helped give her a sense of what it was like. She still remembers the influence that 9/11 had on her life and desire to join the service.
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Working in Civil Affairs, it's essential to understand the nuances of what is going on in the place you're deployed. Christina Cross made sure she was well-versed in the intellectual part as well as the physical training. Being given the honor graduate award at airborne school meant a lot to her.
After returning to college after airborne school, Christina Cross prepared herself physically and mentally for the prospect of heading off to war. More training at Fort Polk and Fort Benning got her ready for her deployment to Ramadi, Iraq.
First arriving in Iraq, Christina Cross and her battalion had to adjust to life in the desert. She was tasked with working with the Iraqis to improve the local schools which had suffered from the war. Her experiences with the Iraqi people were also memorable.
Being a female soldier in Iraq allowed Christina Cross to be very influential especially among the women & children that they came in contact with. By learning what Iraqi women were good at, they were able to create a Women's Business Center that let the women sew, knit and create products that they were later able to sell at the bazaar.
Christina Cross remembers some of the close calls she had while stationed in Ramadi, Iraq. Remaining alert during civilian interactions and while moving through new areas was essential for them to stay safe.
Dealing with IEDs was a constant threat in Iraq that Christina Cross had to deal with as a Humvee driver. Figuring out how to best navigate situations with these devices took time to learn.
Christina Cross remembers her last few weeks in Ramadi and the difficulties that came from transitioning away from the meaningful work she felt she was doing. Making relationships with the Iraqi children made it hard to leave.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
Ken Preston had a very rewarding position as 1st Sgt at BNCOC, the basic NCO course at Fort Knox. Scouts, tank and Bradley crewmen and mechanics all received their instruction there. He was elevated to deputy commandant, which meant that he was now the busiest person in the Army. He was right up on twenty years and he filled out the form for a retirement date, but his boss had something to say about that.
After the war in Iraq shifted from a conventional war to an insurgency, intelligence became very important. That and up-armoring vehicles to protect them from the enemy's favorite weapon; the Improvised Explosive Device or IED. Compounding the problem was a lack of disposal teams. For V Corps Command Sgt Major Ken Preston, it was a difficult fight with a steep learning curve.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
A big priority for Ken Preston, the 13th Sgt Major of the Army, was helping the families of service members who were being pressed into longer and longer deployments. The armed forces were being stretched thin. In 2009, he was asked to come to the White House to brief the President from the enlisted perspective and he was able to voice his concerns at the highest level.
The bomber jacket worn by a hometown character caught LC Johnson's young eye, so he always had the Air Force on his mind, not the Army. He was stationed at isolated radar sites in the Southwest, at first. Then he got his first taste of a real Air Force base in Japan, where he worked in supply and at the clubs on base.
Looking back on Iraq, Ken Preston recalls how limited the communications were, with very few satellite units to go around. There was internet for the troops, which was not the case in the previous war. Daily communication with home has it down side, though.
Ken Preston describes how a well functioning armored cavalry unit operates in the field. There are a lot of moving pieces and it requires a platoon leader and a platoon sergeant with skills. After his part in Desert Storm was over, a drawdown began in the Army which stymied his promotion. No big deal. He now had experience.
Operation Desert Storm was so brief that Brooks Tucker, a Marine veteran of that conflict, believes that it may be a forgotten war. He speaks of the lessons learned, including operating in desert terrain and adjusting expectations for possible outcomes.
A lot of technology has changed, but to an old tank master gunner like Ken Preston, it still comes down to that last hundred yards on the ground, force to force. Getting to that point has been aided greatly by GPS technology, something that helped tremendously in Iraq.
His dream was to be an architect, but now he was in the Army for a few years. The recruiter tried to help Ken Preston by putting him on an engineering and surveying path, but he found out about a $2500 bonus for committing to an armored unit. That was a lot of money in 1975.
He was a newly minted rifle platoon leader in the Marine infantry. Brooks Tucker had no experience outside of training, so he worked hard to fit in and get respect in the historic unit, which counted Tarawa and Beirut in it's backstory.
Ken Preston's armored cavalry unit deployed to the Kuwait/Iraq border to provide security for the pullout following the swift resolution of Operation Desert Storm. He has vivid memories of the oil well fires and the wreckage covering the battlefield.
As the length of deployments increased, lessons were learned about how service members went through the process of reuniting with their families. Sgt Major of the Army Ken Preston explains how it was a mistake to go immediately on a vacation.
He was back at Fort Knox, where ordinary tank gunners became master gunners. Ken Preston enjoyed passing knowledge on to young NCO's who could go back to their units as a more valuable asset. He had served in Germany and the Middle East and was coming up on a big decision. Make twenty and retire or keep going?
After the war on terror brought US forces into Afghanistan, the focus changed from the 9/11 attacks to weapons of mass destruction believed to be in the hands of Saddam Hussein. At V Corps, Command Sgt Major Ken Preston started preparing for a possible invasion in the summer of 2002. The following March, US soldiers rolled into Iraq covered in chemical warfare suits.
He'd come a long way from those early months of the Iraq war. Ken Preston recalls welding steels plates in the doors of Humvees to make "hillbilly armor." When he became Sgt Major of the Army, he was able to help improve the quality of the equipment in the field. Not only that, more child development centers were built for Army families to improve their quality of life.
The 1st Armored Division was in Germany and prepping for Kosovo when Ken Preston arrived to take over the Command Sgt Major position. He had only been there a little more than a year when he got a call from US Army Europe headquarters. It was a familiar story, by now. They needed a big list of applicants for an important position.
It was a long and interesting career. Ken Preston rose from a tank gunner to become Sgt Major of the Army. But he didn't stop there. After retiring, he became involved with several worthwhile charitable and service organizations, including Homes For Our Troops and the USO.