SWD Commander, Brig. Gen. Reed, Embodies his Ready, Resilient and Relevant Philosophy

As a youngster growing up in rural Alabama, Kenneth N. Reed’s days circled around his schooling, engaging his imagination and playing outdoors with his friends, especially in the nearby woods. As he navigated through the sixth grade in Louisville, Ala., young Ken would come to a major life decision, he wanted to become a military officer.

That desire as a young boy started him on a path that today, finds him commanding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division in Dallas. On February 1, Reed was promoted to Brigadier General during a frocking ceremony officiated by USACE 55th Chief of Engineers and Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, in Fort Worth, Texas.

According to the top USACE Engineer, the rank of brigadier general signifies a pinnacle of leadership, responsibility, and strategic influence, representing the highest echelon of command, where individuals not only have the responsibility for leading, but also the duty to shape the path ahead.

Now Brig. Gen. Kenneth Reed kept a watchful eye as his children Kenny, right, and Taylor, left, pinned on his stars. USACE PHOTO BY PATRICK ADELMANN

“Ken’s past accomplishments – while they have contributed to his excellent reputation as a trusted leader in our organization – are not why he has been selected to serve as a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army,” said Spellmon. “Generals are promoted because the Army knows and trusts a Soldier’s potential and ability to serve and command at the next level.”

Ironically, Reed’s goal, as a young child running through the woods, was to become a U.S. Marine officer. A cancellation of a summer work program he planned to attend led him to the U.S. Army and to basic training during the summer between his junior and senior years of High School.

“I wanted to make sure I had a job during that summer, but basic training at Parris Island was too long to be able to attend. But I met with an Army recruiter, Sgt 1st Class Frazier, and I was able to enlist in the Army and attend basic training that summer.”

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After gaining parental consent from his mother, Mirl, Reed would graduate basic training and high school the following year. He would attend the University of Alabama earning his commission, graduating as a Distinguished Military Graduate in December 1995.

The 28-year soldier’s mother and grandparents played significant roles in his upbringing, shaping his family and work values, love of education, and his faith in God.

“My grandparents were sharecroppers. I keep a mason jar of red Alabama dirt as a constant reminder of where I came from. They did not have the same educational opportunities in their day, and they pushed me to take advantage of everything that was available to me because an education can never be taken away,” he said.

“My mother’s unshakable faith and work ethic was my main driving force over the years. Whenever things got hard, I’d look back on her life and remember, she never gave up.”

Now Brig. Gen. unfurls his flag with the assistance of his wife Karen, mother Mirl and aide 1st Lt. Kathryn Seyer. USACE PHOTO BY PATRICK ADELMANN

Throughout his career, Reed has held a variety of leadership and staff positions at tactical, operational, and strategic levels. Early leadership opportunities arose with the 23rd and 16th Engineer Battalions in Germany, where he served as a Sapper and Support Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Battalion Maintenance Officer during Operations Joint Endeavor and Joint Guard in Bosnia. He then joined the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Cavasos (formerly Fort Hood) in Texas, serving in multiple staff and command positions culminating as Company Commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The deployment to Iraq combined with his new role as company commander would be Reed’s most memorable, yet challenging assignment.

“My assignment as a company commander in Iraq is where I would say I became a professional Soldier. I realized that leading during combat is very serious and I had a lot of people depending on me to make sound decisions and lead by example,” said Reed.

One night, while out on a patrol, he would come face to face with his mortality, coming under an improvised explosive device attack. After surviving the attack, he was out on the very next patrol saying “if they (his troops) were going to be out there, I will be out there.”

Reed’s additional assignments included positions as the Battalion Executive Officer Observer, Controller, and Trainer for the 1st Battalion, 395th Regiment (EN). His field-grade leadership assignments began as a Military Transition Team Chief for the 9th Brigade, 3rd Iraqi Army Division in Al Kisik, Iraq, followed by key developmental assignments in the 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Cavasos and Afghanistan.

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Prior to coming to the Southwestern Division, Reed served as the Commander for Fort Worth District in Texas and the Transatlantic Expeditionary District in Kuwait. As the SWD Commander and Division Engineer, Reed oversees four District Offices in Little Rock, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Galveston and Fort Worth, Texas, encompasses all or part of six states, and covers some 2.3 million acres of public land and water that include hundreds of water resources development and military design and construction projects bring value to local communities, our Nation and our warfighters.

Looking back on his 28-plus year career, he reflects on the changes he has seen in the Army, especially the education level of soldiers and the embracing of a diverse military.

“Soldiers are much smarter now than when I came in. The education level that the kids have entering the services today is far beyond what I had. They have more questions, and they do their research. It has led to an overall smarter military,” said Reed.

“Our military has always been on the cutting edge of technological, societal and culture change. You come to realize when you are in combat for 20 years, leaders within the Army, and all services, understand that everyone brings something different to the table. A smarter and diverse force allows for a military that’s ready, responsive and relevant.

Brig. Gen. Kenneth Reed addresses those in attendance after his promotion. General Reed ensured to thank his mother for her leadership throughout his life. He also recognized his wife, Karen, for her support during their time together. He concluded his speech by thanking his mentors who have molded him in his life and his Army career. USACE PHOTO BY PATRICK ADELMANN

“The battlefield is evolving, technologies are changing, and threats remain. But in the face of this complexity, I see an Army resilient and strong, adaptable and innovative. We will train for tomorrow’s conflicts and develop leaders who inspire and foster a culture of excellence that ensures our victory in every fight.”

Beginning the next phase of his career, Reed enters the general officer ranks having survived a stroke and battled back though months of challenging physical therapy and a cancer diagnosis. But through his faith and support from his family and friends, he is ready to tackle his new role focused on bringing value to the leaders of tomorrow. He viewed his health scare as a challenge and a “season of pruning in preparation to bare good fruit.”

“Our pruning season hasn’t been the easiest time along this journey for team Reed, but I know with all my fibers that we stand ready to bear fruit for the harvest. As we have navigated this pruning season, my wife Karen has been everything that I needed and has taught me lessons on perseverance,” said Reed. “She has been my rock, supporting and developing me to be a better man, father, husband, friend, and leader.”

For the newly promoted brigadier general, the challenges and hardships tested his and his family’s limits. Yet, through it all, their faith in God never wavered. “The faith we have in our lord savior has led us to adapt, innovate, and overcome, because that is what has always defined our journey,” said Reed.

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He views his promotion as another blessing that culminated though faith, the teaching and love of his family and surrounding himself with those who would mentor and expose him to opportunities that would lead him to success.

“My upbringing with my mom and grandparents, attending church on Sundays, is my core and foundation. I instill those values into my kids as they grow and pass on to them to surround themselves with good people,” said Reed.

“With my faith and family behind me, I know with all my fibers that we stand ready to bear fruit for the harvest. We are the defenders of freedom, the guardians of hope, and the embodiment of American strength.”