WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 8, 2011) -- "You have a voice and I'm your voice, so I'm interested in hearing what you have to say," Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III told Army teens, who also met with their state senators on Capitol Hill Thursday before lunch.

They visited Capitol Hill in the midst of a "storm" that comprised a last-minute fight to pass a budget and keep the government working beyond midnight Friday.

In honor of the Month of the Military Child, 12 Army teens, including four Army Teen Panel members, representing California, Texas, New York and North Carolina; four from Fort Belvoir, Va., two from Fort Meade, Md., and two from Fort Myer, Va., met with Chandler and their senators to share their opinions on how the Army cares for and takes seriously the needs of all members of the Army family.

Courtney Rinnert, 16, took great pride in meeting Sen. Barbara Boxer, who was busy between hearings and apologized for not having much time.

Boxer has spent much of her career caring and fighting for members of the military and their families.

Boxer worked to establish the West Coast Combat Care Center in San Diego, created the Defense Task Force on Mental Health and successfully secured nearly $10 million over two years for research into the diagnosis, prevention and management of neurodegenerative diseases such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the Veterans Health Research Institute at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"I really want to thank you for forming the Military Family Caucus (co-chaired with Sen. Richard Burr, N.C.)," Rinnert told Boxer, who replied it was an honor to do it, but what she really wanted to hear about was Courtney's family.

"How's your dad, is he home now'" Boxer asked Courtney who said her dad spent a year in Baghdad, training Iraqi military personnel, but he's home and safe now.

"And what are your plans for the future'" Boxer asked.

"I'm going to do military work," Rinnert said.

Rinnert, who's been on the Army Teen Panel for almost a year, says she has learned a lot about life while becoming one of nine Army Teen Panel members around the world who are the "bigger voice" for Army teens.

"Before I came to ATP, I thought about a career in psychology, but then I met Anthony Merriweather, a junior adviser, who inspired me. When I'm here with the other teens, I never want to leave. This is what I want to do," Rinnert said.

Having met some of the most influential generals in the Army, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, U.S. Army Installation Management Commander Gen. Rick Lynch, and U.S. Army Family and Moral, Welfare and Recreation Commander Maj. Gen. Reuben D. Jones, Rinnert feels she has possibly made connections that will help her accomplish great things in life.

"I've also learned how to manage work, be professional, handle myself in various situations, be a leader and how to speak out about what's important," Rinnert said.

As Boxer went off to another hearing, Rinnert and Maj. Mora Boggs, who escorted her, decided a tour of the Capitol was in order before lunch. The two just missed meeting Sen. John Kerry, who was caught up in the last-minute budget battle to keep the government operating.

At lunch, Chandler told the teens how he can take what they have to say to the next level while filling them in with what he plans to do over the next four years.

"It's an honor to be here with the Army teens and I want to congratulate you for what you do, being part of the ATP, participating in the Army family advocacy program, and how we are going to look at the changes we need to make to better support you and your families," Chandler said.

"Over the next couple of years, the Army is working toward restoring balance in our force. And for you, that is a big part. Starting in October, when Soldiers deploy, for active-duty folks the expectation is that they'll deploy for a year and have two years back. For the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, that's four years back. We are focusing all of our energy in trying to restore that balance for you as family members to reconnect with your Soldier and for the Soldier to reconnect with you," Chandler said.

"So, that's my focus, and I will tell you that over the next four years, I will focus on your life, making it the best that it can be, based off of what it is the Army needs to do," Chandler said.

The Army Teen Panel allows Army youth to communicate directly with the highest levels of Army leadership and inform them of issues that impact Army teens.

Since its inception in 1995, over 100 teens have participated on the Army Teen Panel who are the voice of more than 100,000 Army youth, 13-18 years old.

ATP, including teens from the Army National Guard, Reserve and Accessions Command, is a civic education program that began in 2004 and provides members with opportunities for developing leadership, community outreach and citizenship skills.

As part of their duties, teens respond to focus groups, questionnaires, attend Family Covenant & Army Family Action Plan update teleconferences, participate in Army Family Action Plan conferences, provide leadership at Region Youth Leadership Forums and brief Army leadership. They also offer teen viewpoints on current issues, provide feedback, gain support on proposed youth initiatives, and disseminate information among peer groups and child and youth staff.