FORT HOOD, Texas (May 31, 2013) -- Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III spent three days here this week, and managed to cover a good portion of the largest military installation in the country during that time.

"I came to Fort Hood to meet with Soldiers and their families, talk to leadership, and see what's going on at the 'Great Place,'" he said, noting he has been stationed here a few times in his military career. "It was important for me to come down and listen to what Soldiers have on their minds, and deliver some messages from the Army leadership about where we are, where we're going, and what we need to focus on."

Chandler's busy schedule took him from one event to the next nonstop, from a Memorial Day commemoration in Georgetown, Texas, to a 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment tank range, to assemblies, meals and functions in dining facilities and meeting rooms.

Along the way, he had positive things to say about the Soldiers he met.

"If you think about it, most of these young men and women came in the Army after 9/11," he said. "They volunteered to serve their nation in a time of war, knowing they were probably going to be deployed in harm's way. I came in the Army in 1981, during the Cold War. We mostly did training. I'm not sure, if I was 18 again, if I would choose to join the service knowing that."

"All of the services add up to about 3.1 million people," he noted. "There are about 330 million people in our country. You got the top one percent of the American people out here doing amazing things each and every day. If you can't get excited by that, I don't know what's going to get you motivated."

As a former tanker, he seemed to be particularly motivated during a visit to the hot and dusty Blackwell multi-use range, where a tank company from 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, was running through gunnery qualification courses.

During his stop there, he invited regional media to talk to him and some of Fort Hood's Soldiers.

As one of the top officials in the Army, he knew serious questions were unavoidable, and he did not shy away from them when they were asked.

The recent, highly publicized sexual assault allegations came up, and he left no doubt about what the Army's standpoint is on the subject.

"I'm very upset by it. Every Soldier in the Army considers themselves to be a professional. When we have (sexual assaults) committed against Soldiers, we have to be very concerned. One sexual assault in the Army is one too many. We are held to a very high standard by the American people. But just as important, we have to have that trust between one another," he said.

Underscoring the seriousness of this challenge to the Army, he told audiences at every stop, "This has become the chief of staff of the Army's number one priority, even above the war.

"What I want to relay to every Soldier is that it's preventable," he continued. "If we choose to be professionals, who are engaged with each other, if we're a person of character willing to do what's supposed to be done even when no one is looking, if we're committed to each other and our Army, then we'll be successful in preventing sexual assault from happening. It's not someone else's problem. It's an Army problem."

Another concern that came up often was sequestration, and the challenges a reduced budget creates within the military, and the civilian workforce that supports it.

Chandler said he was extremely concerned that our Army must ask civilian employees to cut their pay by 10 percent during the remainder of the year.

"That impacts every other aspect of Fort Hood. Some people are going to lose about ten percent of their income between now and September. That amount out of my pay would have a huge impact on my quality of life. Unfortunately, our civil servants are bearing the brunt of those decisions," he said.

Soldiers on Fort Hood are also being impacted by the Army's financial challenges, he said, and more changes can be expected.

"The challenge is we have increasing costs, and the persons that are going to be impacted by that the most are going to be those (units that) are non-deploying," he said.

Despite the impact, he added, "We are able to take risks with units, like some of these on Fort Hood that are not deploying, because we have great leaders. Soldiers take an oath to the Constitution, and that means we're going to support the government's decisions, and figure out a way to make it work."

The day-to-day routine of Soldiers on Fort Hood and across the Army will also be shifting, he said.

"As we're reducing costs to the Army, and deploying Soldiers less frequently, those things that we contracted out like security, the dining facilities, and other activities around post, will go back to their traditional roles, which has been led by Soldiers. That's because we don't have the need to have so many people deployed constantly like we have over the last 10 years. You'll see more training that is not deployment-focused, but is more focused on core competencies, to conduct decisive action operations," he said.

He was quick to answer when asked what other changes Soldiers can expect as the Army transitions back to a "garrison force."

"I would disagree that we're going to become more of a garrison force," he said. "We may not deploy as much, but our job is to maintain readiness, so that when asked by the nation we can do whatever it is that needs to be done.

"Soldiers are going to continue to train hard and maintain our equipment. We're going to work on our esprit de corps, our camaraderie, and our commitment to each other. We're going to deploy to places and do things we haven't done so much in the past. We are making changes in the Army as to how we align units around the world, so we're going to a regionally aligned force, which meets combatant commanders' needs. The first example is going to be a brigade from Fort Riley that's going to Africa to support AFRICOM's mission there. That's going to be very different for us."

At the end of his stay, he said he remains optimistic about the future.

"We have a whole bunch of Soldiers out there who are doing exactly what we expect of them every day, whether that's in Afghanistan, around our nation, around the world, or right here at Fort Hood. The vast majority of our Soldiers are living our values and our ethos, and are being the professionals that we expect," he said.

Page last updated Fri May 31st, 2013 at 00:00