FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 23, 2014) -- Character, commitment and competence are key to reducing sexual assaults and suicide among service members, according to the Army's most senior noncommissioned officer.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler visited Fort Lee yesterday, for his final walk-through of the Best Warrior Competition, which is set for Oct. 6-9, and to hold a town hall session for more than 500 Soldiers assigned to or attending advanced individual training at the installation.

"I'm proud of your service and what you do," he told the assembled troops. "Everyone in this room makes the top one percent of the American people, because (the other) 99 percent are either unwilling or unable to serve in the Army.

"However, being in the top one percent comes with additional responsibilities," Chandler continued. "Those responsibilities mean we have a higher standard that we are measured against. When we don't meet the American peoples' expectations, then we are called to be accountable for it."

Chandler said part of the reason he decided to hold the town hall, which was not originally scheduled as part of his visit, was to discuss concerns of the American public and lawmakers. Among them is the 50-percent increase in reports of sexual assault, according to a Pentagon survey released in May.

"We're going to talk about our Army profession and two things I think we can solve -- sexual assaults and suicides," he said. "I'm not going to show you the Army's sexual assault or suicide prevention PowerPoint presentation. I'm trying to drive why we have challenges in this area due to a lack of understanding of what our profession says we must be known for."

Throughout the briefing in the post theater, Chandler called upon various Soldiers and asked them to share their experiences in the Army. He encouraged them to discuss the character, commitment and competence it takes to remain a professional in the armed forces. He further asked the NCOs in the audience if they were professionals, and all agreed with that assessment.

"Everyone says they are a professional," Chandler observed, "so why do we continue to have challenges with sexual assault and suicide?"

Not trusting one another can be an underlying concern, and Chandler stressed the importance of battle buddies and others in the Army family speaking up when something is wrong.

"It all starts with, do you know what you are supposed to do and are you doing it?" said Chandler. "It starts with battle buddies. Do you know one another? If you don't or you're not committed to that individual, then you're not the professional you say you are.

"The first line of defense is not a PowerPoint slide," he continued. "It's you doing something. I cannot effect change in the Army; I can give you policies and procedures and talk to you about it. But if you are not willing to do your part, and turn that discussion into action, then we will continue to keep floundering around with (sexual assaults and suicides)."

As part of the town hall, Chandler took several questions from the audience. Among the topics discussed were the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, longevity in the Army and leading Soldiers.

One Mortuary Affairs Soldier shared a story of a master sergeant who was fast-tracked during his Army career and even earned drill sergeant of the year, but still was being forced out under the Army's drawdown program. Saying she wanted to be a "lifer," she asked Chandler what she could do to avoid facing the same situation down the road in her career.

"While I can't tell you the exact reason this master sergeant is (being processed out), I have a few ideas," he said. "While he may have been recognized for being the drill sergeant of the year, we have a lot of folks who want to continue doing the same thing (i.e. occupational specialties and assignments) over and over. We don't look for people to stay stagnant; we look for people who are willing to tackle other assignments so they are broadly skilled."

After the session, Chandler said he is thankful for the work the Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee has done for the upcoming Best Warrior Competition.

"I really want to tell Fort Lee and the leadership here how truly appreciative I am -- as are the other senior non-commissioned officers and the officers of the Army -- about their effort into turning this into the best they can possibly make it," he said. "I'm very grateful for them, and proud of the folks who live and work and are associated with the Fort Lee community."

During the Best Warrior Competition, 28 individuals from 14 major Army commands around the world will compete for the titles of U.S. Army Non-commissioned Officer or Soldier of the Year. The three-day competition will include warrior tasks and battle drills, an Army Physical Fitness Test, a written exam, a military board appearance and several other events. The winner of the competition will be announced during an evening awards dinner on Oct. 9, here.

For more information about the 2014 Best Warrior competition, go to www.army.mil/bestwarrior, or click on the link to the right.