3:24 | During Robert Walton's first deployment to Iraq, the soldiers' hands were not yet tied by the government. They were freely able to eliminate threats. He lost his first friend in a Bradley rollover accident. He was in the vehicle and it was his first big scare.
Keywords : Robert Walton Iraq Baghdad Sunni Triangle Lion's Den mortar fire Chad Mercer Bradley Fighting Vehicle
He was a troubled youth, but Robert Walton thought his life might turn around in the Army. His GED wouldn't get him on active duty, but the National Guard was an ideal starting point. He was a talented mechanic, so he came in as a heavy equipment mechanic with an engineering company.
Going from the National Guard to active duty was difficult for Robert Walton. First, they wouldn't count his Guard experience toward promotion. Then, there was an abusive NCO. He had some good training experiences in Egypt, but, when his term was up, he went to work for Halliburton KBR.
He put his mechanical expertise to work in Afghanistan for Halliburton KBR, but Robert Walton returned to the Army with the Georgia National Guard and prepared to deploy to Iraq. He had grueling desert training in California, and then encountered an NCO who set his mind straight.
He was no longer in an engineer company, he was in the infantry, now. Robert Walton deployed to Iraq with a Georgia National Guard unit. At Camp Stryker, it took only a week before getting hit with rocket fire.
When running convoys in Iraq, Robert Walton was a gunner on a Humvee. On his first mission, a local civilian in a Mazda took off at high speed and the commander gave chase. He tapped Walton on the leg and said, "Stop him!" The training kicked in.
In Robert Walton's unit, there was a soldier who was held back from deploying to Iraq for medical reasons. He appealed and was able to join the rest of the outfit in Iraq. He wasn't even there a week when tragedy struck. For Walton, the war just got personal. (Caution: Graphic Descriptions)
The power plant was supposed to be clear, but when Robert Walton was walking through, he heard voices nearby and they weren't speaking English. It turned out to be not much of a threat. What was a real threat in Iraq was the huge amount of munitions stockpiled by the insurgents to use in IED's.
During his first deployment to Iraq, Robert Walton saw a gradual change in the populace. The people became less hostile and more welcoming, sharing meals and information on insurgents. It was still very dangerous, with convoys being hit with IED's every day.
Being home after a year and a half in Iraq was good, at first. But Robert Walton wasn't ready to deal with civilian life, so he secured a place in a different National Guard outfit and did an individual mobilization from home, joining the unit in Iraq.
During his second deployment to Iraq, there was the same danger from IED's, but Robert Walton had to deal with a new problem. His own military leadership had decided that there would be strict rules of engagement going forward. Not only that, but a financial shakedown of Iraqi vendors was creating more terrorists.
His second tour was coming to a close when Robert Walton was approached by a sergeant major from a California National Guard unit that was coming over to Iraq. Would he be interested in extending with them? His knowledge of the Iraqi roads and his combat experience were highly valued.
He extended in Iraq to help a green unit get on it's feet, agreeing to two months. Robert Walton ended up staying for a year. He had a job to do. When he returned home, it was only a few months before he decided to volunteer yet again. The civilian world did not have the structure and discipline he craved.
Why would you volunteer for a fourth combat tour? For Robert Walton, one reason was the illogical world of civilian hiring. He possessed many qualifications and certifications, but they weren't good enough because they were in a military setting.
Four combat tours and he knew he was done. Robert Walton needed to spend time with his ailing parents and he needed to start dealing with his PTSD. What he didn't need was the static he was getting from the VA.
As if four combat tours weren't enough, Robert Walton went to a Georgia National Guard unit to train new soldiers. It was one last chance to pass along his knowledge and experience to the Army he loved.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He was a little busy, trying to manage the war in Iraq from V Corps headquarters, but Ken Preston was told he needed to submit an application packet for the position of Sgt Major of the Army. He ignored the request. Then he got a phone call from the current SMA.
The Sgt Major of the Army position was created in 1966 by Gen Harold Johnson, the Chief of Staff of the Army, who wanted a senior enlisted advisor on hand. The 13th SMA was Ken Preston, who immediately sought out and befriended all the previous holders of the position that he could. One of the messages he carried to leadership from the ranks was that there was an unacceptable level of stress on service members and their families because of long deployments.
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.
Ken Preston began his career as a Command Sgt Major in the deserts of Kuwait. His unit had mobilized in response to some sabre rattling by Saddam Hussein. After four months, he returned to Fort Hood with the 3-8 Cav, what he considered to be a model battalion.
Ken Preston figured that he'd risen as far as he could go in the Army and was looking for property in Texas for his retirement. But, once again, he stayed to move up. He became a Brigade Command Sgt Major and was not in that position for very long when he was asked to interview for the CSM job at 1st Armored Division.
On September 11, 2001, there were 130 senior leaders huddled in a town pavilion during a war exercise in Heidelberg. An aide handed a slip of paper to V Corps commander Gen Scott Wallace. He showed it to Command Sgt Major Ken Preston. A plane had hit he World Trade center. Then there was a second slip of paper and the General stood up and addressed the crowd. Everything had changed at that moment.
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.
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.
It turned out that he had a knack for gunnery, so Ken Preston became a tank master gunner and was promoted to staff sergeant. That was while he was in Cold War Germany. His next stop was the armor school at Fort Knox, instructing in weapons systems. He was doing very well there and that got him a VIP assignment as an exchange instructor in England, where his family could enjoy another scenic location.
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.
It was never part of the plan to go into urban areas. Ken Preston describes how American forces wound up occupying and patrolling Iraqi cities once Saddam was ousted. He was in V Corps HQ and found an excellent base of operations to use; one of Saddam's palace compounds near the Baghdad airport.
The aim was to treat Iraqis with dignity and respect so they would respond in kind. V Corps Command Sgt Major Ken Preston helped to make that goal happen while he was the highest ranking enlisted service member in Iraq. While there, he was asked to interview for the position of Sgt Major of the Army, SMA, the highest enlisted position in the Army.