FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Aug. 2, 2012) -- The Army's top noncommissioned officer, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III was on Fort Leonard Wood to learn more about post and, more importantly, spend time with Soldiers and their families.

"Seeing Soldiers and their families is without a doubt the most rewarding thing I get to do. Unlike the chief or the secretary who really have to work the programs and policy, I get the luxury of seeing these men and women and their families," Chandler said. "This is my first trip to Fort Leonard Wood. I am looking forward to spending time with each of the three schools and spending some time with the Soldiers."

While on post Chandler and his wife, Jeanne Chandler, held a town hall meeting with hundreds of Soldiers and family members.

"I loved the questions, the energy and the enthusiasm. I am very impressed," Chandler said.

During the meeting Chandler said the major challenge facing the Army today is the draw down; stating 15,000 Soldiers will need to be cut from the current force every year for the next five years.

"The draw down is going to be a challenge because we are going to have some people leave that service that we really want to keep," Chandler said.

For Soldiers that want to continue their Army careers Chandler had some advice.

"They have to ask themselves, 'Do you still want to be a part of the Army?' and 'Are you willing to do what the Army wants you to?'" Chandler said. "When you are a Soldier, you have chosen to be a part of something larger than yourself. We expect you to grow while you are in the service both personally and professionally. So, do what's right, and if you are unsure ask questions. Be what you say you are -- a professional."

He stressed trying hard to excel in physical fitness, weapons qualification and school. Continuing education being something he has seen take a front seat in the last 31 years.

"I came into the Army in 1981. The average education of a noncommissioned officer was an eighth grade education. More than 50 percent of the NCOs who were serving in the Army had no high school. The biggest change that I have personally seen is that our Soldiers are much more educated than they were when I first came in. That shows you the incredible things that they can do. They have stepped up repeatedly and continue to push the envelope," Chandler said.

Chandler also talked to the Soldiers about health. He put emphasis on suicide, sexual harassment, hazing and behavioral health.

Chandler said there is a stigma surrounding Soldiers asking for mental health counseling, but there shouldn't be because, "it won't effect your career."

A few of the things Chandler did while on post were tour the Lt. Joseph Terry Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Responder Facility; viewed hydraulic excavator, grader, back hoe loader and assault breacher training at Training Area 244, and spoke with Military Police Soldiers at Maglin Hall.

Jeanne Chandler toured a junior-enlisted home; had a roundtable discussion with family Readiness Group Leaders, and met with Survivor Outreach Services family members.

She said she was impressed with the programs and services available to families on post.

"It's very positive. They seem to have a creative approach to delivering Army Family programs here," Jeanne said. "I encourage all of our spouses to take advantage of Army Community Services programs and Army Family Team Building, especially our new spouses. Being involved in the Army as a spouse and volunteer is very rewarding."

Overall the sergeant major of the Army wanted Soldiers and families of Fort Leonard Wood to know he cares about them.

"I am proud of everyone's service, Soldiers and families. Jeanne and I are really appreciative of the sacrifice that our families have made. They are the ones who I think have really suffered the most. When their young man or woman deploys, they are at home trying to keep it all together. The Soldier is doing what they volunteered to do, and gets recognized. We don't tell them 'thank you' enough," Chandler said. "So, thank you families. We appreciate what you have helped us to be able to do."

Jeanne agreed.

"Our families have endured so much and have been so courageous. It's wonderful to come and meet them and hear their stories. I will bring these stories back and share them with others at the Department of the Army," Jeanne said.