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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - When Spc. Rashonda Covin, a supply clerk, decided to join the Army a little more than two years ago, she and her husband, a former Marine, took their three children and decided to devote their lives to the Army mission. Ultimately, they also adopted the Army mindset.
So, when Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III came to speak to deployed Soldiers during a town hall at Forward Operating Base Fenty, Afghanistan, Tuesday, she was elated to not only meet the top enlisted leader and receive career advice, but also to be personally thanked for her service to her country.
"It was nice to hear and see how he really is (in person)," said Covin, of Albany, Ga., of her first meeting with Chandler. "Every time I meet higher ranking people like him, I want to hear how they might have done better, so I can use that in my own career."
Covin, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky., and her Family made a major life decision when she enlisted at 31 years old, from Austin, Texas, where she and her husband took care of three children. And even though she "loves" the Army, there were some reservations her Family had about joining at a time of war.
Chandler's duties as the senior enlisted adviser are to travel around the Army's global reach, engage Soldiers to learn the concerns and related issues that Covin and others might have, and ultimately inform and advise the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff on decisions they make.
During his trip in RC-East, Chandler made three stops: ISAF Joint Command and 18th Airborne Corps at Kabul International Airport; 2nd Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at FOB Fenty; and at Bagram Airfield.
Combined Joint Task Force-10 and 10th Mountain Division Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Lewis and 10th Sustainment Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Jose Castillo, traveled with Chandler to all three eastern venues.
While at FOB Fenty, he shared an intimate lunch with a handful of junior Soldiers and spoke about issues concerning a number of various topics, from the future of pay and benefits to preventing sexual harassment and assault and suicide. Lunch there was followed by a larger town hall held with around 200 Soldiers.
At each location, he took time to thank them for their hard work, sacrifices and, most of all, their service to the people of the United States.
During his visit at IJC, he held a town hall to discuss issues facing the Army today and the near future. He spoke about how budget cuts from sequestration will likely affect the Army, but he offered sound advice on how it should not negatively affect leadership. He also said leadership alone is good enough, but charged all leaders with something he called "engaged leadership."
"You just can't expect, by osmosis, that when someone puts on the rank of sergeant, E5, that they are the best leader in the organization or in the entire Army; you've got a responsibility - we all do - to one another, to continue to develop our junior leaders to replace us. That means you've got to share your knowledge, your skills, and your experiences with them so they can grow."
Although the setting at his last location was a much larger town hall at Bagram Airfield, with a larger audience, the time and attention he offered was the same.
Soldiers from private to command sergeant major, from the Active Component, National Guard and Army Reserve, and from all types of different occupations, sought his advice and opinion related to the Army's most important topics, just as he had at the other sites.
Sgt. Linda Bates, a Human Resources Plans and Operations noncommissioned officer with Intelligence and Sustainment Company, 10th Mountain Division, as a young leader, took the rare opportunity to listen to Chandler offer insight to the her role and the Army's future.
"Prior to the sergeant major of the Army's visit, I thought 'engaged leadership' was being involved with your Soldiers and providing them with purpose, direction and motivation," said Bates of Gulfport, Miss. "I now realize that as leaders, we have to be there for our Soldiers - both personally and professionally. This will make our force stronger and alleviate two of the biggest challenges we face in today's Army, sexual assaults and suicides."
When asked by a noncommissioned officer, he shared the story of his personal bout with post traumatic stress after returning from combat. He said he ultimately overcame any stigma associated with it and sought behavioral health counseling. He also took on the tough questions about the latest updates of the Army regulation on the wear and appearance of uniforms.
At day's end, Covin, who spoke for the deployed Soldiers, said she was appreciative of Chandler's visit to Afghanistan, but Chandler said he was the one more appreciative.
"I get a lot of personal satisfaction just to be able to talk with the men and women who serve in the Army ... I truly believe they are heroes and they do amazing and unnoticed stuff day in and day out. If I can tell them thanks, if I can recognize them with a coin, if I can listen to their concerns and try and provide an answer, then I really can't think of anything better to do."