CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – A hallmark of military service is the close bond forged through shared service. While diverse backgrounds must be melded to accomplish the mission; it can also be a comfort when the man or woman next to you is from your hometown or your alma mater. More than two decades later and thousands of miles from Jacksonville, Ala., two leaders realized they had more in common than distinguished service in the Army.
Brig. Gen. Kenneth C. Roberts, U.S. Army Central Assistant Chief of Staff and head of Operations, and Col. Barry F. Graham, head of USARCENT Military Intelligence, both graduated from Jacksonville State University and never met until serving together with USARCENT at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C., and at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
“What we continue to see is that it is a small Army and relationships matter. Anytime you join forces with someone, you are looking for a basis of common understanding or foundation to build trust from,” said Roberts. “Having a common background, such as both being alumni of JSU, helped us get to a level of trust very quickly.”
Roberts said he has had an opportunity to work with several other JSU alumni.
“I’ve served with JSU alumni throughout my career- particularly after 9/11 while we prosecuted the Global War on Terror (GWOT). It has always given me a great sense of pride in our university to see the professional Soldiers and leaders that JSU continues to provide our military,” said Roberts.
Roberts commissioned in 1980 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps at JSU. During his career he held a variety of positions to include tank platoon leader, company commander, battalion commander, Deputy Chief of Staff for National Guard Affairs, and he previously served with USARCENT from 2007-2009. He deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Currently, he oversees a varied mission which includes force management, training and operations across a 20-country area of responsibility.
Graham graduated from JSU and commissioned in 1988. He has occupied a variety of roles to include motorized platoon leader, company commander, Senior Intelligence Observer/Controller at the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels, Germany, and Executive Officer at the MI section of the Department of the Army at the Pentagon. He deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom twice. His current role is the head of MI for USARCENT.
For Graham, it was his first time to work with another JSU alum, and he said it was a privilege to work with the general.
“The operations and intelligence relationship is very important in any organization and is really the team that implements the commander’s guidance. Brig. Gen. Roberts has a wealth of great experience, insights and talents that he brings to the organization,” said Graham. “He really is an expert in everything from tank gunnery to training to Title X responsibilities. We are fortunate to have him as our senior operations officer at USARCENT.”
The general had similar praise for the colonel, saying, “Col. Graham is our ‘go-to-guy’ for understanding the operational environment from a threat standpoint. Barry is well respected and trusted in providing a common understanding of the enemy and dynamics of our AOR.”
Both leaders said their education at JSU helped them throughout their military careers.
“Firstly, attending a small school afforded me the opportunity to be a part of core efforts and social organizations. This helped me to see value in teamwork and working towards a common goal,” said Roberts. “Secondly, playing football at JSU helped me by building up my perseverance in the face of adversity.”
Graham said, “JSU provided me with an excellent, broad based liberal arts education. I learned a little about a whole lot of things, which has served me very well over the years.”
Both men agreed that the Army was a way of life, more than a profession alone; although, each credited the university with exposing them to the traits of a professional. Their education helped them heed the call to service, something Graham had felt his entire life, so much so that he enlisted when he was 17-years-old. Roberts said that he realized that the military would build on the teamwork he came to love during his college football days.
“When I graduated from college, I came to realize how much I missed the camaraderie of a team working toward a common goal. The Army has provided me a similar platform or venue. The only difference is that in the Army we deal with life and death instead of blood or broken bones,” said Roberts.
Both Graham and Roberts remember their time, and hair styles, at JSU fondly and reflect happily on their time in the Army.
“It has been a fun ride all these years, and I stay because I enjoy what I do,” said Graham.
“I think the Army is a great breeding ground for preserving the values that our founding fathers envisioned- selfless service, duty, honor, etc. The stakes are high and the responsibilities are great, which make it very rewarding and satisfying,” Roberts said.