On his visit to Afghanistan, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler touched on topics ranging from the disturbing trend of Afghan troops killing their international counterparts to tattoos. Here are some highlights from a reporter’s time with the Army’s top enlisted soldier:
• Tattoos: Chandler is fond of telling a story about a noncommissioned officer to whom he was about to hand a challenge coin. As he was handing the soldier the coin, he says, he noticed the soldier had tattooed on his knuckles, “Eat Sh*t.” The tattoo does not fall afoul of the current regulations but would be banned under proposed new rules.
“Is that professional conduct and appearance?” Chandler said. “I would say no.”
Many soldiers are concerned about the stipulation in the proposed regulation that would retroactively disallow certain tattoos deemed offensive, but not currently in the banned categories of racist, sexist, indecent or extremist.
If the current proposal is adopted, Chandler said soldiers with tattoos the violate the new regulation will likely have a year to get them removed.
• Suicide: The Army continues to deal with crisis of suicide within the ranks and Chandler urged soldiers to do something if they see a comrade struggling with depression and fight the stigma still attached to seeking help.
“Reach out to them, that’s how we’re going to solve this problem,” he said. “It’s not going to be some poster or ad or video.”
When asked what he would say to soldiers worried about seeking help because they might be discharged from the Army due to mental health problems, Chandler said that was always a possibility, but that getting help was paramount. He pointed to himself as a success story, having gone through two years of treatment for post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“At the end of the day I’m a better husband, I’m a better father, I’m a better person and, ultimately, a better soldier (after treatment),” he said.
• Sexual Assault: Chandler decried the rash of sexual assaults in the military, a disturbing trend highlighted by an Air Force scandal in which 12 instructors at Lackland Air Force Base were investigated this year for sexual misconduct with trainees.
“I need you to be furious that one of our own has stolen someone’s dignity and respect,” Chandler said. “I don’t know about you, but that pisses me off.”
— Heath Druzin