General officer celebrates nearly four decades of National Guard service

by Capt. Charlie Emmons
Georgia National Guard

Major General Kenneth C. Roberts, Georgia National Guard, completed a distinguished career of more than 37 years of service during a ceremony Friday at the Clay National Guard Center in Marietta, Ga.

Roberts retired as a Georgia Guardsman in front of a large crowd of VIP visitors, three generations of family members, friends, and military service members.

He described how his military career began to take shape as a child, playing with toy soldiers in a cotton field near his house, and became official in his college years, when a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) instructor recruited him by offering him one hundred dollars per month and an opportunity to go to camp for a couple weeks in the summer. Roberts agreed to the offer, since it would still provide him the opportunity to continue playing football. Some visitors in attendance had played alongside him on his college team, and he compared the gridiron experience with his military career.

“Knowing I would miss the camaraderie of being part of a great team, it was a natural transition from football to the military for me,” said Roberts. “I wanted to be an American Soldier, I wanted to be part of something bigger than oneself, fighting for a common cause and fighting to win.”

After commissioning as a second lieutenant at Jacksonville State University, Roberts has served in progressive leadership roles for Georgia National Guard’s 108th Armor Battalion, 1st Bn., 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and strategic national-level assignments that included leadership roles at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), and the National Guard Bureau.

The Army National Guard’s Director, Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Kadavy presided over the ceremony and expressed high praise for Roberts.

“In my opinion he’s the most experienced and hardest working general officer in the Army National Guard,” Kadavy said.

While honoring the retiring general officer, he described Roberts’ career as a metaphor for the evolution of the National Guard itself throughout the last four decades.

“He began as a regular part-time Soldier ready to respond to a state emergency or a federal mission,” Kadavy said. “He rose through the ranks as a Guardsman, and as the Guard was evolving into the operational force that it is today, he was there each and every step of the way.”

Roberts’ most recent position was Deputy Combined Rear Area Coordinator, United States Forces Korea. USFK oversees joint Republic of Korea - U.S. combined forces, and United Nations Command Multinational Forces with the mission of deterring external aggression and defending the Korean Peninsula. Roberts was the senior leader on the ground during the recent deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea.

“We kept sending Ken to put out fires, he took all our hard jobs, and as always, Maj. Gen Roberts was where we needed him and he always performed better than we ever expected,” Kadavy said.

His long list of awards include the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star Medal. In addition to his assignment in South Korea, Maj. Gen. Roberts also deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, and completed strategic assignments throughout the Middle East during his career.

During the ceremony, Georgia’s Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Joe Jarrard presented Roberts with the Oglethorpe Award, while his wife Sonia received the Georgia Meritorious Service Medal. Captain Daniel Roberts presented his father with an American flag. Roberts concluded the event by issuing a light-hearted order to the group to sing “Happy Birthday” to his granddaughter.

Roberts explained how technology changed over his time, enabling increasingly better communication with his family members since his career.

“Fortunately we’ve evolved from mail, to email to Facetime at an increasing pace. But the hardships of family separation remain,” Roberts said. “Now I look forward to actually being there."

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