FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 18, 2012) -- Troops back from Iraq and beginning the move out of Afghanistan will find a "smaller Army" as the U.S. military enters an era of shrinking budgets, but advancement possibilities are alive and well for those who wish to stay in uniform, the top enlisted Soldier said Thursday.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III returned to Fort Benning last week for the 29th annual Best Ranger Competition but also made appearances across the installation during a four-day stop. He observed various training events, visited wounded warriors, toured new facilities, and greeted Soldiers and Families all over post, including separate town hall forums with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team on Kelley Hill and personnel from the 197th and 199th Infantry Brigades.

Chandler also was guest speaker at the basic training graduation Thursday for E Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, on the National Infantry Museum's Soldier Field.

"There are still plenty of opportunities for everyone who wants to serve in the Army and wants to be a part of the Army," he said. "That really means we need you to be that professional, a person of character, commitment and competence who is focused on becoming a leader in our Army for the future. If you do the right things, we got a place for you.

"I think the No. 1 issue on everyone's mind is the drawdown from Afghanistan and how that's going to affect them."

President Barack Obama has announced a U.S. withdrawal date of 2014. But the sergeant major of the Army said questions linger about deployment lengths, frequency and what's going to happen in Afghanistan after that time.

Chandler said leaders face numerous decisions but the Army's priorities won't change in the long term.

"We're still going to fight and win our nation's wars," he said. "We're still committed in Afghanistan, and that is our No. 1 focus. We are going to continue to provide manned, equipped and trained units for the combatant commanders to win the war in Afghanistan and do whatever else our nation asks us to do.

"We're going to transition to a smaller Army than it is today. But we're still going to be the best Army in 2020 that we are right now."

A strong focus will remain on leader development, education, discipline and high standards throughout the ranks, he said.

At Harmony Church on Thursday afternoon, Chandler got his first peek at the Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment system, which opened in December at the MCoE Clarke Simulation Center. The ELITE Room was created to help Army leaders provide real-world counseling to junior Soldiers.

"It's an awesome tool," he said, "and it's part of the suite of things we want to have with virtual, live and constructive training. This is one of those ways we can use some technology to help train basic tasks and not have to spend so much time one on one. You can put it together, watch your responses, learn from each other, learn from the instructor and really get after that cognitive thinking we want. It's got amazing potential."

Armor, Cavalry and Infantry students in the Basic Officer Leader Course are using it now, but the ELITE trainer might be extended into the Warrior Leader Course as well, the sergeant major said.

Chandler joined the Army in September 1981 and served as a tanker following basic training at Fort Knox, Ky. He's a former Armor School command sergeant major.

"Seeing its manifestation and all the things that are happening here in the Maneuver Center -- the integration of Infantry and Armor and Cavalry together -- the synergy that's been created is great," he said.

He became the 14th sergeant major of the Army in March 2011. In the role, Chandler advises the Army chief of staff on all enlisted Soldier-related matters, particularly those affecting training and quality of life. He sits on a variety of councils and boards and routinely is invited to testify before Congress.

As combat operations diminish and leaders adjust for tighter budgets, the Army won't abandon its primary concerns, he said.

"The first thing Soldiers and Families need to know is that the Army is committed to them and is grateful for their service and sacrifice -- as is the nation," he said. "We are committed to the Army Family Covenant and sustaining Army Family programs that are of benefit and the Families want."

An analysis of all programs is under way to determine which are relevant, Chandler said. A reorganization could free up resources for the more viable ones still favored by Families.