Within the military, the position of the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) is often referred to as “The Backbone” for steadfast support to the unit, commanders and the soldiers under their command. When first pinning on the stripes of an NCO, those individuals assume the role of mentor, caregiver, coordinator, disciplinarian, and soldier. As the 14th Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) and the Department of the Army’s most senior NCO, SMA Raymond F. Chandler III symbolizes the longstanding history of the NCO Corps.
Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III
Born in Whittier, California SMA Chandler enlisted as a 19E (Armor Crewman) in Brockton, Massachusetts in 1981. He subsequently received his One Station Unit Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, whereupon graduation he served in a variety of units over the following years. Serving in all armor crew positions and advancing through the NCO Corps, he has served as troop, squadron, and regimental master gunner, 1st Sergeant, and Sergeant Major. SMA Chandler has served in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Infantry Divisions, 1st Cavalry Division, 3rd Armor Division, both the 2nd and 3rd Armored Combat Regiment, and finally at the U.S. Army Armor School and U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. SMA Chandler also served as the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom II (2004-2005) where he was later assigned as CSM to the U.S. Army Sergeant Major Academy in December 2007. In June 2009 SMA Chandler was selected to become the 19th Commandant of the U.S. Army Sergeant Major Academy and the first enlisted to do so in academy’s history. On March 1, 2011, SMA Chandler was sworn in as the 14th SMA and has since continued the legacy of the Army’s most senior NCO throughout the Army and for all junior enlisted soldiers. SMA Chandler holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Administration from Upper Iowa University as well as a variety of military and enlisted schools focusing on skill set, leadership, mentoring, and training. 
Role of the Sergeant Major of the Army
Historically, the role of the SMA was based on the 1957 Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. By 1966 GEN Harold K. Johnson, the Army Chief of Staff at the time, began considering nominations for the newly-conceived Army appointment with the requirement that it be a functional position and not one of pre-retirement. Listing seven duties expected, GEN Johnson saw the SMA position to include service as a personal advisor and assistant on all matters pertaining to enlisted soldiers. Eventually the list was narrowed and Sergeant Major William O. Wooldridge, serving in Vietnam with the 1st Infantry Division, was chosen as the first SMA in July that same year.
The SMA is unique within the Department of the Army’s senior leadership. As an appointee and the only NCO within that leadership (unless an enlisted individual is serving as senior advisor to the Chairmen of the Joint Chief of Staff), the SMA directly supports the position of Chief of Staff of the Army while representing all enlisted members. Much of the SMA’s appointment requires continual travel to observe unit training and talk to soldiers and their families, but the duties vary depending on the requirements of the Chief of Staff of the Army. Recently SMA Chandler toured Kuwait, Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula and several posts, camps and stations in the United States. SMA Chandler separately talked with soldiers concerning the the Army Profession, listened to their concerns, and emphasized the importance of soldiers looking out for one another and being involved. 
When appointed, SMA Chandler chose to retain the challenge coin design of his predecessors stating,
“The current design of the [SMA] challenge coin has been in existence since SMA Jack Tilley served in this position between June 2000 and January 2004. Both SMA Kenneth O. Preston and I both have used this same coin. The only difference is that my name is now on it”. 
SMA Chandler’s challenge coin is unique in that it reflects the historic 1966 symbolism of the SMA collar insignia, taken by COL Jasper J. Wilson from a cannibalized Aide-de-Camp to the Army Chief of Staff insignia (minus the surmounting eagle) and hand soldered to an enlisted collar disc. The modified shield insignia was approved for the position of Sergeant Major of the Army on July 4, 1966 and then worn by SMA Wooldridge and his successors.
When presenting his challenge coin, SMA Chandler imparts,
“Each [Army Value] plays an equally important and intertwined role in our Army Profession. My coin recognizes an individual who has exceeded standards and expectations. A challenge coin is just that – a challenge accepted and overcome by the one receiving it, but in another way, it was a challenge to the leader of the person receiving the coin. When I present coins, I specifically ask presentees why they believe they have been nominated to receive one. I expect each person who receives my coin has already been recognized in some form or fashion by his or her first line leader and thanked for their commitment to make the Army better. I want them to realize they have accepted the challenge and succeeded. Each of us has responsibilities as a leader, no matter what our position or rank, and as a leader we need to mentor, guide and counsel others toward accomplishment of their mission and ensuring the welfare of those who serve with them. The presentation of a coin is also recognition that a leader has inspired others”. 
On the Obverse of the challenge coin is the SMA shield insignia in brass and full color. Similar in pattern to the Chief of Staff of the Army coin, the Obverse of the SMA challenge coin is divided diagonally from lower hoist to upper fly with scarlet above white, according to the Institute of Heraldry.  Centered on the shield is a single five-pointed star surmounted by the United States Coat of Arms in gold, red, white and blue. Two smaller white five-pointed stars appear above in the scarlet field, mirrored by two red stars below against the white field.
In keeping with the design of SMA Tilley, the Reverse of SMA Chandler’s challenge coin features the unique chevron rank of the Sergeant Major of the Army centered, and against the background of a full colored US flag that is altered so that it appears to be waving. Along the Reverse’s top edge are four gold stars, while “Awarded by SMA Raymond F. Chandler III” is written in gold along the left edge and “14th Sergeant Major of the Army” along the right.
1. US Army. Leader Profiles: Sergeant Major of the Army. The U.S. Army. February 1, 2013. http://www.army.mil/leaders/sma/ (accessed February 8, 2013).
2. Ham, Walter T. SMA encourages troops to look out for one another. Eighth Army Public Affairs. November 5, 2012. http://www.army.mil/article/90688/SMA_encourages_troops_to_look_out_for_one_another/ (accessed February 08, 2013).
3. Chandler III, Raymond F., interview by Brian T. The 14th Sergent Major of the Army’s Challenge Coin. Edited by SGM Troy Falardeau. (February 5, 2013).
4. The Institute of Heraldry. Positional Colors for Military Officals Headquarters Department of the Army. Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/UniformedServices/Flags/Pos_Colors_Military.aspx (accessed February 10, 2013).
Contributions provided by Raymond F. Chandler III, Sergeant Major of the Army.