SMA Chandler: 'We have an incredible Army'
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler speaks about Army challenges following a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Sergeants Major of the Army on Jan. 10-11, 2012, at the Army Materiel Command headquarters at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Redstone Arsenal happened to be a test ground for more than missiles and helicopters on Jan. 10-11.

It also became the first try at moving the board of directors meetings of the Army's sergeants major out of the Pentagon and to different installations throughout the U.S. And for the Army's top enlisted Soldier -- Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler -- it was well worth the effort in his initiative to ensure Soldier leadership understands the full range of capabilities within the Army's civilian and military work force.

"I am a tanker by background, so my knowledge of Redstone Arsenal was very limited," Chandler said.

"Redstone Arsenal is a fantastic place," he continued. "I hadn't realized how big it was or how complex. I want to promote a greater understanding within the sergeant major population of what the Army is and what we are a recipient of. This is a way to see it, touch it, feel it and taste it as we learn a little of what the Army Materiel Command does for the war fighter."

Chandler's comments were made following a two-day visit at Redstone Arsenal, during which the group of the Army's highest level of sergeants major received an overview briefing of the installation and visited the Prototype Integration Facility where employees of the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center provide quick engineering fixes for some of the war fighter's most difficult challenges in theater. The group also addressed enlisted Soldier business, including the new Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Reporting System, the command selectee nomination process, Soldier Self Development Program and Master Resiliency Training Program.

The group's meetings were held at the Army Materiel Command, or AMC, headquarters. Chandler made time to talk with local media following the conference.

"I don't think we do enough to promote AMC and what this organization is doing for the war fighter," he said. "This is an organization of quiet professionals. It's incredible what the folks at AMC do. If you are someone who can help a young sergeant who's on point for our nation, that's incredible."

A visit to Redstone Arsenal not only gives leaders like Chandler an opportunity for a closer look at the Army Materiel Command but also at three of its 11 major subordinate commands:

• Aviation and Missile Command
• Security Assistance Command
• Army Contracting Command

In addition, the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (of which the Prototype Integration Facility is an element) is a subordinate laboratory to another AMC major subordinate command -- the Research Development and Engineering Command.

Chandler mentioned the vehicle handles that AMRDEC's Prototype Integration Facility, known as the PIF, designed and manufactured for the Humvee (the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) that have become lifesaving features for Soldiers when their vehicles overturn.

"A huge issue for me while I was in Iraq were that vehicles tended to roll over (in swampy ditches) and Soldiers would drown because they couldn't get out of their vehicle," said Chandler, an Iraq war veteran and recipient of the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star medal.

That issue was brought to the PIF, where engineers designed a handle. The handle was then manufactured in the facility's machine shop and the new equipment was shipped to Iraq in 30 days.

"We don't make anything happen at the Army level in 30 days," said Chandler, who visited with AMRDEC employees who were involved in providing the handles.

"These employees did what's right, and I wanted to take the opportunity to say 'thank you.' We need to remind ourselves as senior leaders that we need to show our appreciation for hard work and dedication. Each one of those folks (at the PIF) are doing something for the Army and the nation. Visiting them was a highlight of my time here."

Chandler is the 14th sergeant major of the Army, taking on the assignment in March 2011. In his position, he serves as an adviser to the Army's chief of staff on all enlisted-related matters, particularly in areas affecting Soldier training and quality of life.

As the Army's top enlisted Soldier, Chandler has a key role in shaping the future Army. With the end of the Iraq war, he is much involved in ensuring a "managed drawdown" of U.S. forces per the strategic direction provided by President Barack Obama.

"We don't want a precipitous drop like we had after Operation Desert Storm/Operation Desert Shield," he said. "We need to draw down troops over time in a predictable and managed process. We have a lot of challenges in front of us to make the Army smaller. Our leadership is committed to doing that in a responsible manner."

The drawdown is aimed at making the Army stronger.

"We want to focus on individuals not meeting Army standards and retaining the best qualified folks," Chandler said.

"Our noncommissioned officers have made this the best Army ever. The NCO is a valued part of the Army. With challenges come opportunities. If you are positive about this, there are some things we can do to make the Army better, even if it's a smaller Army."

No matter how small the Army does become, it is always in need of people of "character, commitment and confidence," he said.

The Army wants Soldiers who can learn from leadership, and leaders who can instill lessons that build on Army values.

"If we can say, 'Here's your direction, young Soldier,' then we can really shape tomorrow's strategic leaders," he said. "We have built an incredible Army and will continue to do so. We have a responsibility to the American people to shape it."

Chandler used the metaphor of the brass ring to describe the motivation, drive and determination that the Army is looking for in its young recruits.

"On a merry-go-round there is a brass ring that you have to reach for. You are continuing to go around and around on that merry-go-round if you are never going to seize that prize," he said.

"The ones who seize that brass ring extend themselves a little more than their comfort zone," Chandler said. "They extend themselves and separate from the pack. If you are the kind of person challenged by the idea of extending yourself and separating yourself, then we absolutely have a place for you."

Once that young recruit becomes a Soldier, his family also becomes part of the Army family.

"We recruit a Soldier, we retain a family," Chandler said. "We all know that a Soldier's decision to stay in the Army is a lot of times based on the experience that the family has had."

Chandler called young Soldiers his "personal heroes."

In 1981, when Chandler joined the Army, the nation was not at war and there were no dangerous deployments to consider.

Today "young men and women volunteer knowing they very likely in a short period of time will be in harm's way," he said. "And every day, they still step into a recruiter's door and say they want to serve."

As part of the sergeants major board meeting, spouses were also invited to Redstone Arsenal to learn together about changes and opportunities associated with the Army Family Program, the Community Covenant Program and Master Resiliency Training.

Chandler said resiliency both of Soldiers and their families is a significant issue facing the Army.

"How do we create a more resilient force? After 10 years of war, it's not just the Soldier that has had to endure. It's the family, too," Chandler said.

"No one understands what it's like to live in fear every day when your loved one is deployed. Spouses and families are waiting for the return of their loved one and hoping someone (a chaplain or casualty notification officer) doesn't knock on their door. I'm not sure as a nation if we understand the burden those families really truly carry."

With the end of the Iraq war and plans to bring closure to the war in Afghanistan, the Army is now refocusing on leader development both for Soldiers and civilians.

"We are re-emphasizing how important it is to develop leaders, specifically after coming out of combat for 10 years," Chandler said.

Soldiers are involved in peacekeeping missions, major combat operations and counterinsurgency operations, and the Army must learn how to build a broadly skilled Soldier who can function in all areas, he said.

"How are we going to renew the profession? How do we instill and reinforce discipline, weight control and physical fitness? How do we re-energize the American Soldier after 10 years of war and full spectrum operations?" Chandler asked.

"There are a lot of initiatives refocusing on the idea of what it truly means to be part of this profession, and the importance of character, commitment and confidence. How do we institutionalize and re-invigorate the Soldier? How do we manage the drawdown?"

Besides Army issues, Chandler and the other sergeants major who visited Redstone also noted the support received from the local community.

"There is a tremendous relationship between Redstone Arsenal, AMC and the city of Huntsville," he said.

"We can't really do what we do as an Army without the support of the local community. It's really pretty incredible what you have here. We have an incredible Army, but it's because of the American people and their commitment to the Army."

Page last updated Thu January 19th, 2012 at 11:13