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SMA visit focuses on Army transition

January 26, 2012

By Susanne Kappler, Fort Jackson Leader

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Jan. 26, 2012) -- Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler visited Fort Jackson last week to talk about training issues and to brief Soldiers and noncommissioned officers about upcoming changes and challenges.

"This Army is in transition. We're going to have a smaller Army. And we're going to have fewer Soldiers than we have today," Chandler said during the Basic Combat Training graduation ceremony of 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, on Jan. 19. "But these young men and women are still going to be asked to do the hard work of our nation each and every day. And there's a place for them as long as they want to serve."

The Army is expected to cut about 50,000 Soldiers throughout the next few years on the heels of ending the war in Iraq and the ongoing drawdown in Afghanistan. In an interview, Chandler said the Army's transition may also lead to changes in Basic Combat Training.

"Obviously, fewer people will be coming in the Army, so there'll be (fewer) Soldiers in training all the time," he said. "But I see this as an opportunity to look at a couple of things and see where we may want to make some adjustments in the Basic Combat Training program of instruction. That's part of the reason why I've asked to speak with the sergeants major (here)."

Chandler, who was accompanied by his wife, Jeanne, on the visit, also expressed his gratitude toward drill sergeants and members of the training cadre.

"First of all, I want to tell them, thank you for what you do. Because they do something that a lot of people don't want to do," Chandler said. "The perception that coming here to TRADOC means you're going to take a knee and take a break is absolutely not true. And they're making citizens into Soldiers; and they're really shaping our Army."

During a town hall meeting Friday at the post theater, Chandler addressed the issue of shortages among drill sergeants in response to a question from a Soldier about the possibility of involuntary extensions.

"We have a challenge. I am going to personally engage myself in this challenge, because we have too many people who show up at Drill Sergeant School who don't meet height and weight standards, can't pass the PT test or, heaven forbid, just choose to not show up," Chandler said. "From my perspective, the thing that I need to do as the sergeant major of the Army is to make sure everybody understands how important this is and then hold those who don't show up and their leaders accountable."

Chandler said he would be back at Fort Jackson to follow through.

"During the month of March there are three enrollments here for the Drill Sergeant School," Chandler said. "And I and every single post, camp or station sergeant major that has a student enrolling in the Drill Sergeant School will be here to observe the (candidates') height and weight and (Army Physical Fitness Test). And then, those sergeants major and I are going to have a discussion. That's holding people accountable. That's trying to do what you're supposed to do, being (a) professional."

Likewise, Chandler asked the crowd, which was comprised of mostly noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, to be consummate professionals.

"We are an Army that says we're professionals, and we're measured by what we do. So, if you are a professional, I measure you by what you do," he said. "And that means that you're a person of character, commitment and competence."

Chandler said that one way of cutting the force will be by asking Soldiers to leave who are not adhering to Army standards. He called on the NCOs to set and enforce those standards.

"Each and every one of you NCOs knows there are Soldiers in your formation right now who are not meeting the standard," he said. "What are you going to do about it? Are you counseling them? Are you telling them what right looks like? If you're not, you're the problem."

Chandler said that Soldiers who exhibit character, commitment and competence will continue to have a place in the Army.

During the graduation ceremony, Chandler called Spc. Erica-Monique Jackson, one of the graduates that day, an example of that commitment. Jackson lost more than 260 pounds in four years to be eligible to enlist.

Jackson, who will continue her training to become a health care specialist at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said she was flabbergasted to be mentioned by name by the top enlisted Soldier in the Army. She explained that her brother inspired her to lose that much weight.

"My brother served before me. I remember just feeling so proud of him and knowing that I sleep at night and I'm safe because he's out there protecting me," Jackson said. "After a while I said, what's getting in my way? What's stopping me from going after my dream?"

Chandler said that stories like Jackson's can serve as an inspiration to all Soldiers.

"Every single person in this formation has a story similar to that where they were able to do something that most people would have thought not possible and found it within themselves with the help of their cadre and drill sergeants to be better. I think that's what we want for our society, not just our Army," he said.

Staff Sgt. John Trotter, 193rd Infantry Brigade, served as one of Chandler's drivers during the visit and was in attendance at the town hall meeting. Trotter said he liked that Chandler was "straightforward and to the point."

Like Trotter, Staff Sgt. Julian Zamarripa, who works in the Army Training Center operations office, said he appreciates hearing about the Army's transition first-hand from Chandler.

"It's good to have (high-profile visitors) come and say, 'Look, this is the standard and this is what it should be,' and refresh everybody's memory," Zamarippa said.

Chandler's visit to Fort Jackson also included stops at the Drill Sergeant School, the Master Resilience Training School and the Soldier Support Institute. Chandler's wife, Jeanne, met with family readiness group leaders, school children and toured family programming facilities on post. She said it was important to her to visit installations alongside her husband.

"I think that spouses talk differently. When I go and talk to spouses, I say, how is it going?" Jeanne Chandler said. "Because what we do at the end of these trips is go back, do a trip report that goes to the chief of staff of the Army and the secretary of the Army. And when Ray testifies before Congress, he talks about the things that he sees. He can't be everywhere. By my going to see spouses and family programming, we get a big picture of an installation."

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