Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler (Rob Curtis/Staff)
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Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler says he has about one year left to his service, and while he may be thinking about retirement, it’s not at the forefront of his brain.
Your SMA, the Army’s 14th, has a number of significant changes still in the works for the enlisted ranks that he wants to see through.
Chandler, a veteran tank crewman, took some time March 20 to talk with Army Times about his short- and long-term goals, as well as his career advice for soldiers who are hoping to keep serving despite the drawdown.
Interview excerpts, edited for space and clarity:
Q. What are your remaining goals in this next year?
A. I think you know I’ve got a few things that have been started while I’ve been in the position, and I want to kind of see those continue to gain traction within the Army and become programs of record that we sustain. That’s really our NCO 20/20 initiative — reviewing and refining and ensuring our noncommissioned officer education system is in line with the chief of staff of the Army’s vision for the Army in the future.
Obviously, getting Army Regulation 670-1 out is very important to me, and then we’ll see where other things may pop up in the next year or so. I want to see them move forward from a concept that’s been approved to actual execution.
Q. As we look at an end strength of 490,000 and possibly 450,000, and maybe even 420,000, what do you foresee in terms of separation policies; will the standards get tighter?
A. Most of our attrition comes from normal separation. And unfortunately, because of the pace of the drawdown, we have to use some force-shaping tools. I believe that if we stay focused on our standards as we have the last few years that we’ll be very close to being able to meet our annual end strength gates to reach whatever the bottom is going to be. I actually feel that if noncommissioned officers and leaders stay focused on enforcing standards and discipline within our Army, that we’re not going to have to, as your example, tighten the standard. We have a standard, I believe that it’s a reasonable standard, and we’ve given the commanders the decision on whether we’re going to retain people or not, and I think we’ve been very successful so far.
Q. There’s a lot of nervousness about this drawdown. A soldier recently told Army Times he’s looking at his brothers in his unit and he’s seeing them more as competition, and that bothers him. He said that inevitably, there’s going to be good soldiers who are forced out. What would you say to this soldier, and what can he do to better his chances to stay in?
A. First of all, I would tell him that I recognize there’s a great deal of anxiety, and I’ve heard the same thing. I think that’s because of the uncertainty. And if you tie that back from a Big Army perspective to sequestration ... we are not able to completely control our destiny as an Army right now. And having said that, you know we have to do things as we move forward, as conditions change, to meet the needs of the Army as it supports the nation, so that’s Number 1.
The second thing is re-enlistment and retention is an individual responsibility; it’s not a collective responsibility. You’re not in competition with your squad or your teammates. You’ve got to put yourself in the best possible position in line with what the Army says is important for you to be able to stay in the Army.
And regardless of what your teammates do, if they’re not willing to do the same thing, then they are at risk of not being able to stay in the Army. You know there’s only going to be a certain amount of people that can stay in that we’re going to be able to retain. And so, it’s your duty that if you want to stay in the Army, that you’ve got to make sure that you understand where you are. Those things that we generally look at for promotion are the same things that we’re going to look at for retention.
Q. Do you see anything in the near term that imperils tuition assistance?
A. No, I don’t think so. We have a reasonable program that provides an opportunity for soldiers outside of their job, nevertheless, to gain some education while they’re on active duty. I think it’s reasonable and I think it’s feasible, and we can afford it.
I do want soldiers to recognize that they are in the Army to be a United States Army soldier, and that’s their primary focus. TA is, I think, a very gracious way to help soldiers while they’re on active duty and not have to use their post 9/11 GI Bill unless they choose to, to work on some college. So I think we’re OK.
Q. What are your plans for retirement?
A. My wife [Jeanne] and I, we’ve been doing this for a while now, so I want to take a little bit of time off. We miss our kids. We’ve got six kids and 12 grandchildren, so because of what I do, we physically can’t be there all the time as much as we want to be. We want to really be able to reconnect with our family and to specifically be a big part of our grandkids’ lives, and then we’ll see.
I’d really like to do something with JROTC [Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps], so that I can help kids who’ve maybe had a life similar to mine when I was growing up. To help them with understanding values — not necessarily the Army’s values, but what values are and how to be a part of a team, how to try to be successful at life and to try to help be a coach and a guide.
A lot of things are different now in our country than they were even when I came in in 1980, and I’ve seen a lot of kids that maybe have a single parent or no parent that I think I can give back in a way and help them, and in turn, try and help our country.