For the second time in a month, the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Army came to Fort Riley.
Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler III visited enlisted soldiers at Fort Riley Tuesday and Wednesday to get feedback to take to Washington as part of an ongoing evaluation of the impact of a reduction in troops over the next five years.
“This time I came to talk to them a little bit from the Army’s perspective,” Chandler said, “but really to hear what’s on their minds and bring that back to the secretary of the chief of staff of the Army as we go forward making decisions on reducing the size of our army.”
Chandler said soldiers typically want to know how the reduction of the force will affect them. He said the Army plans to reduce the size of its force by about 70,000 troops over the next five years. He said officials plan to do that in a variety of ways, but the majority of the reduction will be through the natural process of soldiers fulfilling their enlistments or retiring.
“We know we are going to reduce the size to 490,000, which is going to be about 14,000 soldiers a year,” Chandler said. “The vast majority of that is going to be through natural attrition.”
He said officials also would recruit fewer soldiers to fill those vacated positions and increase retention requirements in order to keep only the best soldiers. He said that while the Army would cut positions in all ranks, the majority of the cuts would come from the enlisted ranks.
“We focus on the enlisted soldier because that is the vast majority of our army,” Chandler said. “And the vast majority of changes are going to affect enlisted personnel.”
As for how the reduction in size would affect Fort Riley specifically, Chandler said he thought there would be some changes, but not drastic ones.
One of those enlisted soldiers is Spc. Eliceo Murillo. Murillo received a coin from Chandler on Wednesday for getting his unit’s equipment up and running for the field exercises 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery were conducting.
It’s a tradition in the Army for officers to give coins for a job well done. The coin signifies that Murillo has been recognized by Chandler for his hard work and dedication to his unit. Murillo is an artillery mechanic, and his unit chose him as the best representative of a soldier excelling at his job.
Murillo was one of 286 soldiers out of the 476 in the 7th Battalion in the field Wednesday performing exercises in order to receive section certification. The certification is meant to prove the battalion is ready to deploy or go on missions should the Army call upon it. Chandler was there not only observing the exercises, but also talking one-on-one with soldiers like Murillo. Chandler crawled inside one of the Howitzers and spoke with the crew, asking them questions about their jobs, problems and concerns.
“You are always going to hear something from a soldier having an issue about something, and that’s OK,” Chandler said. “That’s part of being a soldier.”
Chandler said the Army’s commanders were most concerned with topics such as physical assessment testing, suicides, hazing and sexual assaults. But Chandler also wanted to see where the soldiers trained and work.
“I didn’t think we spent enough time with the soldiers,” Chandler said. “I wanted to see them outside a meeting or some discussion.”
While the soldiers’ living quarters and quality of life have improved since Chandler first joined the Army, he said he wanted to make sure they had quality training facilities as well.
As Chandler continued walking, he looked happy among the thigh-high sunflowers and rolling hills and not at all out of place among the soldiers dressed in camouflage instead of the dress uniform most high-ranking officers wear on Capitol Hill.
“Any day that you get out of the Pentagon and get here seeing soldiers is the best day in the Army,” Chandler said. “It’s always great to hear what the men and women have on their minds. I get inspired with what they have to say.”