FORT RILEY (WIBW) -- Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler III touched down at the home of the Big Red One Wednesday in an effort to have some one-on-one time with soldiers.
The Army's top enlisted officer saw hundreds of artillery soldiers in their element during a training exercise in the field.
It was Chandler’s second visit to Fort Riley in recent weeks. He accompanied the Army Vice Chief of Staff in July as Army senior leaders evaluated soldiers' well being and medical care during their "Health of the Force" Tour of six installations. They worked to assess the overall health of those serving in the Army's ranks.
During his trip this week, Chandler observed training events, toured facilities, and met with Big Red One Soldiers and their families.
Chandler was on hand as soldiers of 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division conducted a certification training.
The soldiers treated the exercise like a real tactical operation and set up operation centers and fired Paladins.The self-propelled 155 mm Howitzers can hit a target more than 12 miles away
"This time is really to talk with soldiers and families and talk to them a little bit about what’s going on from an Army perspective and then to hear what’s on their mind to bring that back to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff of the Army," Sgt. Maj. Chandler told reporters after he landed in a helicopter on the training field.
"I think it’s great that the Sergeant Major of the Army is coming out. It gives him the ability to get face to face with the soldiers. It shows the soldiers that he’s willing to come out to see them and see how they’re training and see what there is on his level that he can do for the soldiers, get any input but it shows the soldiers that he’s willing to get on the ground with them," said Sergeant First Class Ryan Becker, 1-7 FA Battalion Master Gunner.
Chandler addressed several topics with soldiers, including suicide rates in the Army, hazing and the drawdown of our troops.
"We know that we’re going to reduce the size of our Army to about 490,000 right now and we’ll do that over a very deliberate process over the next 5 years which equates to about 12-14,000 soldiers a year. A vast majority of that is going to be through natural attrition- soldiers leaving the Army when it comes time. We’re also going to recruit less people and we’ve also made our retention requirements, those people that are currently in the Army and want to stay, higher than what they’ve been in the past to focus on retaining the best qualified folks," he explained.
When asked how the drawdown would impact Fort Riley Chandler replied: "I’m not sure what the specific numbers are going to be here yet because as part of the drawdown, we’ve reduced the two brigades in Germany and we’re doing a holistic review across not only units but also facilities and infrastructure and you’ve got great infrastructure and facilities here at Fort Riley. Obviously, across the Army, there’s going to be some reduction at probably every single post, camp and station. What it will be here specifically at Fort Riley, I really don’t have the answer to that. And I’m not sure we’re really going to have an answer until January as we see what the 2014 budget is going to look like for the Army and how we’ll move forward. But I think you’ll see some changes. I’m not sure that they’re going to be huge changes here at Fort Riley but there are going to be some."
But Chandler says a leaner force won't mean a weaker force
"We’ve got an Army today that is just so much better than it was in 2001 that is prepared to do the things that the nation is going to ask us to do in the future," he said.
He thanked each soldier he met for their service.
"My own personal heroes are these young men and women who have chosen to enter the Army in a time of war. Very few people in our country are either willing or able to do that for whatever reason but those that do, you have to admire their own personal courage to step up, knowing that they’re probably going to go in harm’s way relatively soon and I think that’s a pretty admirable quality and trait," he added.