Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III speaks to soldiers March 6 during a town hall meeting in Grafenwoehr, Germany. (Spc. Phoebe Malkowicz / Army)
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Approximate number of soldiers per month who have to leave the service because of fitness test and weight failures.
This is shaping up to be one of the toughest years in Army history. Soldiers will lack training and gear as a result of cutbacks and Congress' fiscal fumbles. For the difficult days that lay ahead, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler has one directive: Soldier on.
Providing trained, equipped and ready forces to combatant commanders remains Chandler's top priority. He is not alone in that endeavor. In an era of big budget cuts, the Army has protected funding for units headed to Afghanistan, South Korea or assigned to the Global Response Force Brigade Combat Team.
Other soldiers aren't as fortunate. Four out of five brigade combat teams will be unable and unprepared to meet the needs of combatant commanders because of budget cuts.
Combat Training Center rotations and joint exercises will be canceled. Six divisions will not have the gear they need.
Roughly 1,000 tactical wheeled vehicles, 14,000 communication devices and 17,000 weapons will sit untouched at depots.
Thousands of soldiers will report directly to units from boot camp without Advanced Individual Training. Professional Military Education will decrease for all ranks.
"The effects of sequestration … are going to force us to focus in on and really hone our individual and small-unit skills," Chandler said. "Frankly, we are not going to be able to train at the higher levels unless we have a predictable budget. We need to look at the positive aspects of this. We will be able to focus on core competencies."
It is not yet clear whether individual achievement programs such as Drill Sergeant of the Year and Best Ranger will be affected by budget cuts. Each program is being reviewed on a case-by-case basis, Chandler said. Nothing is off the table.
"We want the spirit of competition. We want to see somebody selected as the winner. We want to see excellence in each one of those skills," he said. "We also need to make sure that those that are deployed or are deploying have everything that they need in order to do what we are going to ask them to do. That is really that fine balancing act that the chief and the secretary are going to have to make some tough decisions on."
Chandler said he expects enlisted leaders to take this time to teach critical individual skills and hone the profession of arms. He spoke passionately about intangibles such as character, commitment and confidence. He demanded senior leaders train up disciplined standard-bearers.
And much of that training will not involve a trip to a brick-and-mortar facility.
"I expect squad and team leaders and platoon sergeants to be all over this stuff," he said. "Although we may not have as many class seats or training as we have had in the past, and that is yet to be decided at this point, there is still a huge responsibility for that squad leader and team leader to understand what we are talking about and then to talk to his soldiers about it.
"Then we will really start to put some meat behind our statements about the squad being the decisive formation for the Army," he said. "I think that is really going to pay us some dividends. We are going to be able to put a lot of work behind reinforcing and reinvigorating our training management."
The Army's top enlisted soldier said he will continue to work hard to ensure those professional soldiers stay in uniform.
The emphasis on physical fitness, height and weight, substandard performance and misconduct will continue. Separations for fitness test and weight failures remain high — about 250 per month combined — but they are lower than the peaks seen in fiscal 2012, according to Army data.
Staying in uniform is one thing. Getting promoted during a drawdown is another. Chandler offered this advice: Be excellent in what you do and then show diversity in other things. Extend yourself. Look for training opportunities. Lead your soldiers and demonstrate excellence consistently. Then take the next step.
"We would expect that, after you have been an excellent squad leader for a period of time, that you are going to go and do something else," Chandler said. "It could be small group leader at an NCO academy. It could be an AIT platoon sergeant. It could be a recruiter. It could be a drill sergeant. It could be a squad leader at a warrior transition unit. Those are things that are going to separate you from your peers. "
And one more piece of advice from the service's top enlisted leader: Find a mentor. He or she does not have to be in your chain of command but must be someone you respect and someone who has leadership traits and qualities you would like to develop.
New and revamped programs
The Army is providing new tools to help in this progression. Chief among them is the forthcoming three-tiered NCO evaluation report. Leadership and technical skills will be the focus for sergeants and staff sergeants. Organizational effectiveness, influence and leadership will anchor the sergeant first class NCOER. Sergeants major will use a narrative approach to detail the soldier's ability to be a strategic leader.
Chandler said he is excited about the new Ready and Resilient Campaign, set to roll out Feb. 28. The campaign will assemble dozens of programs ranging from sponsorship and the integrated disability evaluation system to suicides and sexual assault under one umbrella.
"My expectation is that as we continue to develop our leaders and make sure that they are aware of their responsibilities as a leader to their soldiers, that they become engaged in their soldiers' lives and understand what is going on and what that means," he said. "We would really like them to be able to understand the soldier's relationship, where the support is, what the economic situation is, and what the environment they are living in is and what type of medical care are they under.
"Do they have any warning indicators of excessive behaviors, like too much drinking, medications or things of that nature? That is engaged leadership. If you know that and you know those things about your soldiers, and we are talking at the team and squad level with one to two and maybe nine to 10 soldiers, if you know that about your people, then you will be able to influence behavior. You should be a part of saving someone's life. It is extremely important."
A more robust sponsorship program also is emerging. Chandler admitted that the Army's sponsorship program had not been as disciplined as it should be. The new program is designed to help soldiers when they change duty station to maintain the plans and programs they need to succeed.
Apps have been developed as part of the campaign, most specifically focused around the IDES. The Army also is eyeing the Leader Book.
Chandler also pointed to the intramural sports program ordered by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno as a resiliency builder. A Commander-In-Chief's Cup will be presented this fall to recognize battalion-size units with the best intramural sports program.
"We cannot afford as an Army to have people paying lip service to the Ready and Resilient Campaign," Chandler said. "Each [program] has an impact on the Army's readiness. If we are not committed to doing that and being as ready as we possibly can be, you just do not need to be in the service anymore."