Story by: Sgt. Tresa L. Allemang
BAGHDAD—Three Louisiana National Guard soldiers, currently deployed to Iraq, not only earned battlefield promotions and entered the noncommissioned officers corps, but were personally presented their stripes by the Army’s top NCO, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, during his recent visit to Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, Iraq.
Learning only the day prior of their promotions, Jessica N. Clements, a transportation noncommissioned officer and Dry Prong, La., native; Kasi K. Miller, a logistics specialist and Lafayette, La., native; and Cody M. McLean, a member of the personal security detachment for the joint visitors bureau and New Iberia, La., native, all with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 199th Garrison Command, United States Division- Center, garrison conference room, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Preston and their new roles as NCO's.
All three admitted to being nervous when they discovered who would be promoting them, but the anxiety was quickly replaced by pride.
“It’s such an honor just to be promoted to an NCO, but to be pinned by the sergeant major of the Army was the ultimate privilege and something I will never forget,” Miller said.
Preston said he was honored to be part of the ceremony.
He pinned on each soldier’s new rank and gave them some guidance on their new roles.
“What makes a great NCO is one who teaches and most importantly, one who teaches from experience,” he said as he encouraged them to learn everything they could about the Army.
“Talk to your soldiers, teach your soldiers, and share your knowledge,” Preston said. “Your primary role now is to develop future NCO's.”
He shared his experience as an NCO, and reflected back on his tour in Iraq when he was the senior enlisted adviser for V Corps in March 2003—the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Miller said his visit and words of encouragement were a morale booster to the Tiger Brigade soldiers, who have been away from home for almost 10 months, but his guidance was an eye-opener for the new NCO's.
“After listening to him speak, I realized that I wasn’t just becoming a sergeant, but I was becoming an NCO and I started to realize what an important role an NCO actually takes on,” she said.
Clements said Preston’s guidance is something she will not try to embody as an NCO, but are words of wisdom that she will pass on to future NCO's.
“By him taking the time to be a part of our promotions, it was a reminder to me that no matter what your rank is, you always have to make time to take care of your soldiers,” McLean said.
Miller and McLean said they called home immediately, and while everyone in their families were proud, it was both of their fathers, also veterans, who really understood the honor that comes with such an event.
Clements deployed with her husband, sister, and brother-in-law. She did not have far to go to share the news, and also has family members that share a sincere appreciation of what it means to be promoted by the highest-ranking enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army.
“This is one of the best things that have ever happened in my life,” McLean said after receiving his new rank. “Being promoted by Sgt. Maj. [of the Army] Preston has definitely inspired me to push it to the next level, and be the best NCO I can be.”
Among a small number of Soldiers to join the NCO corps by the hand of the sergeant major of the Army, Clements, Miller and McLean were also the first to be given their stripes by Preston during Operation New Dawn.
Following the promotion ceremony, Preston met with enlisted Soldiers who were selected by their leaders, including many from the 256th IBCT. After presenting his coin to each of them as recognition for a job well done, he held a town hall meeting at the Joint Visitors Bureau, and discussed the importance of leadership, and its impact in the development of soldiers.
Preston, who has held his position as the Army’s top NCO for seven years, spent about four days in Iraq, circulating through the country to talk with soldiers and discuss Army issues.