WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 26, 2014) -- Despite "daunting fiscal challenges and strategic uncertainty," the Army will continue to be the best in the world, the service's top enlisted advisor told lawmakers.

"This past year has brought some significant changes to the Army, including the impacts of sequestration, a government shutdown, furloughs, and the effects of a drawdown and budget reductions," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III.

"As always, your Army, our Army, has risen to the challenge," he said, Feb. 26, at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the quality of life in the military.

The quality of life of Soldiers and their families are critically important as the Army transitions to a smaller force, he said.

Other priorities, he said, are recruiting and retaining the best people, and ensuring a smooth transition into the civilian world for those who served.

"We have the best Army in the world. We are the best equipped, trained and led," said Chandler. "Although we may get leaner, we will still be the best Army tomorrow, in five years, in 10 years, and as long as this nation needs an Army," he said.

The service is at a "pivotal moment" due to the budget challenges and strategic uncertainty, he said.

"But even in the midst of these challenges our mission has not changed -- to prevent conflict, shape the environment and, when necessary, fight and win our nation's wars," Chandler said.

In the 13th year of the nation's longest war, nearly 40,000 Soldiers are still in Afghanistan, he said. In addition, 120,000 other Soldiers are forward stationed or deployed in nearly 150 countries.

"More than 1.6 million Soldiers have deployed since 9/11 and many have deployed multiple times," he said. "More than 5,000 men and women in our Army have given their lives on behalf of our nation. This service and sacrifice can never be forgotten."

Chandler said it is critically important for the Army, even with less manpower and a smaller budget, to maintain peak readiness.

"Our Army has accelerated the timeline to drawdown our active-duty force while we reduce our budget, even while still engaged in combat operations, which is unprecedented in our history," he said.

Achieving the proper balance between readiness, modernization and end strength is critical to ensuring the Army is ready for any contingency, he said.

But he warned that the Army will "again face serious readiness challenges" with sequestration-level funding.

"Just as last year, that will mean that our Army will lack flexibility and predictability," he said. "Our Soldiers, their families, and our civilians will once again face the anxiety that comes with uncertainty."

The Army is focusing on five strategic priorities: adaptive leaders for a complex world; a globally responsible and regionally engaged Army; a ready and modern Army; Soldiers committed to the Army profession; and maintaining a premier, all-volunteer Army.

Chandler highlighted the many Army efforts to support and strengthen Soldiers and their families. Efforts include preventing suicides and helping Soldiers in distress; addressing the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the ranks; caring for wounded, injured and ill service members; and helping Soldiers in their transition into the civilian world.

He did note challenges with recruiting. Even though the Army is meeting its recruiting goals, he said the number of 17 to 24-year olds eligible for service is steadily declining, due to rising obesity, and issues with physical or medical readiness.

Also testifying at the hearing were Chandler's counterparts from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force -- Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael D. Stevens, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Micheal P. Barrett, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody.

Lawmakers thanked the enlisted advisors for their service to the nation.

"We have immense responsibilities in this subcommittee," said the panel's chairman, John Culberson of Texas.

"But I can think of nothing more important that we do than to ensure the peace of mind, the quality of life of our men and women in uniform," he said as he opened the hearing of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies subcommittee.

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