Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee, personnel subcommittee, today, along with his counterparts from the other military services. He ran off a list of Soldiers’ “Top Five” concerns, which includes readiness, fiscal uncertainty, indiscipline in the ranks and regulatory changes such as uniform and personal appearance standards.
“The number-one concern of our Soldiers relates to the work of Department of Defense and Congress on the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Committee,” Chandler said.
He tells Soldiers that they will be “grandfathered” and their benefits will not change, although the retirement program for recruits preparing to come into the force may indeed change to some degree in the future.
Chandler said he’s “traveled tens of thousands of miles to visit with Soldiers in harm’s way” and others around the globe. His wife often accompanies him to meet with family members.
What he has learned, Chandler said, is that concerns fluctuate about benefits such as commissary privileges, Tricare and tuition assistance. But he said, “The one issue that has never wavered is retirement reform.”
Commissaries have not been a concern until recently, he said, adding that family members are usually more concerned about this benefit than Soldiers. He tells them emphatically that commissaries will not close, but it’s possible that some changes may be made to realize efficiencies.
“It will have an impact on everyone if commissaries roll back cost savings from 30 percent to 20 percent,” Chandler said.
Both legislation and policy may need to change in order to make commissaries more efficient, he said, and a “holistic” review of the Defense Commissary Agency will be undertaken. For instance, he said currently generic brands are not usually sold in commissaries. Sometimes generic brands can be bought cheaper downtown than name brands in the commissary, he said.
Looking at stocking shelves with generic brands may be just one of many measures DECA may consider to save Soldiers money, Chandler said. He also emphasized to senators that commissaries don’t compete with any civilian supermarkets.
On the other four top concerns, Chandler said Soldiers worry about readiness. With the tight budget, they worry about the availability of training and whether they will have the proper equipment they need, he said.
Last year’s civilian furloughs and the partial government shutdown under sequestration, also caused Soldiers to worry about fiscal uncertainty and unpredictability, Chandler said.
Indiscipline in the ranks, such as sexual harassment and sexual assault, is another concern of the Soldiers he visits, Chandler said. He said in the last eight months, Soldiers are beginning to talk more about those issues and offer suggestions. That’s an encouraging sign, he added.
Finally, regulatory changes rank number-two among the concerns of Soldiers, Chandler said. This includes the March 30 revision of Army Regulation 670-1 which tightened standards for tattoos and aspects of personal appearance. Soldiers want to be seen as professionals and are concerned about their appearance, the sergeant major of the Army said.
Chandler also discussed transition programs for Soldiers leaving the Army. He said a program at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., was especially successful as the military partnered with trade unions to help Soldiers learn professions. The unions actually guaranteed to find Soldiers jobs once they mastered trades, Chandler said.
Trades such as pipefitting, plumbing and repair of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning or HVAC units were popular trades Soldiers took up at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Chandler said. He added this program will soon expand to other installations, as well. In addition, the Army will leverage vocational-technical schools and community colleges to help Soldiers learn trades, he said.
The Army’s “Soldier for Life” program and transition initiatives were discussed earlier in front of the same committee by Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G-1. He said Soldiers now begin transition programs one year before they leave the service.