FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Army News Service, Aug. 31, 2012) -- While hazing can be confused with a rite of passage into an organization, especially one as large as and with as much history as the military, it is something the Army does not tolerate, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, during a visit here.

"We've had a policy about hazing since the mid-1980s," Chandler said, during a town hall meeting with Soldiers. "Hazing, it's things that you do that could be confused as a rite of passage that end up humiliating, injuring and intimidating a Soldier, and we've got a problem with this. It's unchecked behavior and we've got to police it up. We owe it to the person sitting next to us, we owe it to the Army and we owe it to the American people."

The sergeant major of the Army visited Fort Rucker Aug 22-23, to tour the installation, meet with Soldiers, and discuss with them issues ranging from sexual assault, hazing in the Army, and the stigma associated with seeking help.

High on his list of topics was sexual assault in the ranks. About 1,700 sexual assaults were reported in the Army last year, Chandler said, but only an estimated third of all sexual assaults are actually reported.

"We're trying to make the blueprint for the nation by changing the cultural awareness [on sexual assault]," said Chandler. "We're trying to eliminate sexual assault."

He said that viewpoints must change and that starts with professionalism in the Army and the way Soldiers conduct themselves both in and out of uniform.

"The American people demand more from us than they do the rest of society," he said.

The sergeant major reminded Soldiers that Army policy is to treat everyone with "dignity and respect."

Chandler also took questions from Soldiers at the town hall meeting. One question addressed the stigma associated with seeking help in the Army. He told Soldiers of a near-death experience he had while deployed. He said it affected him in such a way that he sought out individual and family counseling.

"It made a big difference in my life," he said. "If I can be sergeant major of the Army and be in health care counseling, you can be in whatever it is that you do, and get help and get counseling, and there is nothing wrong with that."

If a Soldier or family member feels the need to seek help, Chandler recommends they do so and said that seeking help is a mark of personal courage.

"I had some help and it was good, and it has really made a huge difference in my life. I'm a better man, I'm a better husband, I'm a better father and, last but not least, I'm a better Soldier because of my counseling," he said.

During his two-day visit, Chandler saw many of the training facilities on the post and said what he noticed most about Fort Rucker was the pride that the people of the installation took in their work.

"Pride is contagious," he said. "When you see young men and women excited about what they're doing, it's really uplifting and inspiring. That was really the best thing, the people."

Chandler had the opportunity to observe and speak with Soldiers going through the different types of training from advanced individual training and the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, to flight operations at Cairns Army Airfield and maintenance training.

"The conversations [I had with Soldiers] have been very uplifting and encouraging," he said, adding that he likes to talk to Soldiers about why they chose to serve, and what they think about the future of the Army and their place in it.

"As with most places that I've been to, the young men and women here are very excited about what they're doing," said Chandler. "They believe in [what they are doing] and are grateful and appreciative to be a part of something larger than themselves."

That appreciation is something that Chandler said was noticeable in the training of the Soldiers at Fort Rucker, adding that he was most impressed by a young air traffic controller at Cairns Army Airfield.

"There was a young sergeant who had been in the Army for four years and she was actually directing aircraft departures and arrivals," he said. "Out at the airfield, there is a whole bunch of aircraft taking off and landing, and here is a young woman and she is in charge. I don't know about you, but that's pretty inspiring."

During his visit, Chandler was accompanied by his wife, Jeanne. She also toured the post, conducted a meet-and-greet with Soldiers and families, visited the Munson Heights Housing Community, met with Munson Heights employees, and met with members of a family readiness group.