By Staff Sgt. Trish McMurphy, U.S. Army AlaskaSeptember 27, 2011
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska, Sept. 27, 2011 -- The Army's highest-ranking noncommissioned officer, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, visited the Soldiers and families of U.S. Army Alaska Sept. 22 to talk about proposed policy changes and to answer questions on a variety of topics ranging from retirement, a drawdown of Army personnel and what the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.
Chandler's first stop on his Alaska tour was Fort Wainwright, the Army's northernmost military post, where he spoke at a forum with more than 100 Soldiers and spouses about some of the top issues and concerns of Soldiers and families in Alaska and around the world.
Retirement was one of the main topics of discussion. In the current economic state of the country, many Soldiers worry about their benefits and wonder if they will be able to support themselves and their families upon retirement.
"Retirement is not something the Army has control over, but the entitlements [like retirement] are paid for by the Army's budget," Chandler said. "There are some decisions that need to be made. Decisions will be for those who come later, not those that currently serve."
"This is about trust," he said. "The Soldiers [now] serving trust the American people to provide their quality of life, pay and allowances in exchange for the trust [the American people] place in the Soldiers to defend our country."
Chandler asked the Soldiers attending the forum at Fort Wainwright if they would be interested in alternative retirement options and mentioned several that may be available in the future.
One is a lump sum payment at retirement.
Chandler cited the example of a sergeant first class retiring at 20 years who could receive a lump sum of about 1.4 million dollars and asked how many would be interested. Several raised their hands. Even more raised hands when medical benefits were added.
An enhanced 401K with matched funds is another option under consideration, according to Chandler.
"Right now it's a one size fits all," he said. "You serve for 20 years and you get something."
Chandler said the Army would continue to push Congress to "retain the current benefit" for those currently serving and said changes would be made for those who join the service in the future.
Along with retirement and current economic woes, Chandler also talked about a drawdown in the size of the Army.
"We are going to reduce the size of the active component," Chandler said, "from 570,000 to 520,000 over the next five years".
"We are going to do that in four ways," Chandler said. "We are going to bring less people in service."
Chandler said this has already been implemented and would continue for the next several years.
"We are also going to retain less people," he said, "have selective early retirement boards for those that are retirement eligible and not offer the opportunity to continue to serve for those that are not performing to standard."
Chandler said this did not affect those wounded in combat who cannot perform to their normal standards, but to those who failed to put forth the effort to meet standards.
Chandler addressed the recent repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, emphasizing that standards of conduct remain the same.
"It's our job to enforce the standard, to ensure and maintain that sexual orientation is not part of what we consider to be important in the Army," Chandler said. "It is a private matter."
"What we are concerned with is a standard of conduct," he said. "Inappropriate or public displays of affection in other activities are inappropriate no matter what your sexual orientation is. You know what right looks like."