By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public AffairsJuly 9, 2008
Fort Lee, Va. (July 9, 2008) -- Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers probably has a tremendous list of tasks awaiting his attention as the new commanding general, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee.
Connecting with Soldiers is one of them, and the 55-year-old didn't waste any time in doing so.
In less than a month after taking the helm at Fort Lee, he extended his hand in support, bringing in nationally-known music artists for a free, open-to-the public concert event that was held June 27.
"The easiest way to get to Soldiers today is through a phone or music," he noted. "Through those means, you can change behavior, and that's what I'm looking forward to more than anything else."
That's not to say that he isn't looking toward training logisticians and wrestling with issues such as Base Realignment and Closure.
But caring for Soldiers, he said, is the one constant in an ever-changing set of circumstances and relating to them forms the basis for improving their lives.
"I'm real big on quality of life," he said. "That will be a recurring theme over the next couple of years - Quality of Life for Soldiers," he said, "because when we're not in the fight, we should be doing everything we can to take care of Soldiers and their Families. If we're not, then we're negligent."
Chamber's own quality of life as a child growing up in Marietta, Okla. was far from 'quality.'
"I was the son of an Air Force noncommissioned officer, five kids in the Family, very poor," he said. "You'd think in a military Family..., but during most of my years in school, my father was a staff sergeant."
Chambers' father, Bill, endured several tours in Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War.
"We became very independent because he had long deployments," Chambers said. "We all worked as soon as we were able to. We never had much but we had a good time."
Chambers said that his Family was not much of a church-going one, but his friends did attend and so did he. At 16, he was reborn as a Christian.
"That had a big influence on changing my lifestyle," he recalled.
Chambers, an athlete of sorts, excelled at football, wrestling and track and field. The latter earned him a scholarship at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
He majored in physical education and met his future wife, Elaine, there. They both went to work as teachers after graduation.
"I taught and coached three sports, drove buses, and she coached cheerleaders, but at the end of the month, there was still no money left," he chuckled.
He joined the Army as an air defense artillery officer in 1979.
"The appeal was the 'Hooah,'" he said, referring to the oft-used Soldierly expression; "the athletic characteristics behind the Army versus the Air Force, or Navy. I wanted adventure."
Since taking the oath, Chamber's adventures have been varied. They include assignments as a space concepts analyst, U.S. Army Space Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; supply field services operations officer, 193rd Infantry Brigade, Fort Clayton, Panama; division transportation officer, 3rd Infantry Division, U.S. Army Europe; commander, 13th Corps Support Command, Fort Hood; and commanding general, Transportation Center and School, Fort Eustis.
With the 13th COSCOM, he was responsible for 27,000 troops when it deployed to the Middle East in 2004. Fifty of them were lost.
"If I'd lost one, I'd tell you that that's a failure on my part to that Soldier's Family because I couldn't keep them alive," he said. "That's the thing I lose sleep over the most, those great Soldiers who died serving the nation under my command. I'll never forget them."
The war has strengthened his resolve to take care of Soldiers and he is on a continuous mission to reach them.
At Fort Eustis, he promoted a series of concerts, featuring Christian performers, aimed at awakening Soldiers' spiritual awareness.
A concert series at Fort Lee, to be held quarterly, is a continuation of that outreach.
"The idea is not to be a proponent for any one religion," he said. "It's to have a mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds."
Chambers acknowledges without trepidation that there are some Soldiers who lack the moral upbringing or ethical consciousness to fulfill their promise as Soldiers.
"Our Soldiers today come from many different backgrounds." he said. "Some of those backgrounds did not include any kind of ethical, moral or civics-type training as children. Our intent is to expose that to them while they're here, and if it changes just a few behaviors then we've been successful."