SMA visits troops in southern Afghanistan

By By Sgt. Antony Lee, ISAF Regional Command South


KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – When Pfc. Clark Cepeda learned that the sergeant major of the Army was coming to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, April 15-17, he looked at it as an opportunity to learn about the Army’s future.

The outlook of the Army is an important topic to him, Cepeda said. He joined less than a year ago and wants to progress in his career, and his 13-year-old son also wants to be a Soldier one day.

Cepeda and hundreds of other deployed Soldiers learned more about the Army’s future from Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III during his recent trip to Regional Command (South). The trip included stops at Kandahar Airfield and Forward Operating Bases Apache, Pasab and Masum Ghar on April 16, 2014.

Chandler, who as the Army’s senior noncommissioned officer, regularly visits troops, said there are a lot of decisions we have to make in the future. The town halls he held with Soldiers are a way to provide feedback on those decisions through Chandler to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, and Secretary of the Army John McHugh.

“Your way to talk to the chief and the secretary is to ask a question or express a concern,” he said.

Soldiers asked questions on a variety of topics including allowing concealed weapons on base, retirement and personnel cuts coming in the next few years.

“The fact that he took the time to talk about the budget of the Army was great,” said Pfc. Jacob Carden, 2-504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, who added that he had previously heard rumors about the Army getting rid of airborne operations. “I was very glad I could partake in it.”

Other Soldiers took note of Chandler’s message for them to step up in preventing sexual harassment and assault.

Cepeda attended the town hall at KAF and said it was an informative event. He met Chandler at the end of the event and took a photo with him.

“For me, it motivates me to pursue my career further in the Army,” Cepeda said. “It’s an honor for me to meet the (sergeant major of the Army) personally.”

As a child in the Philippines, Cepeda dreamed of following in his grandfather’s footsteps and joining the military. His grandfather was a decorated veteran who fought in World War II alongside American Soldiers and was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. Cepeda, 35, moved to the United States from the Philippines in 2012, and joined the U.S. Army last year.

To meet the Army’s senior noncommissioned officer so early into a military career is something Cepeda said was a humbling experience.

“I told him, ‘It’s a humbling experience; it’s an honor for me,’ and he said, ‘It’s actually an honor for me to have you here,’” Cepeda said.

Chandler recognized dozens of Soldiers throughout the trip, and expressed his appreciation to all of them for contributing to the mission success and for doing something significant.

Chandler said he is very proud of what every single Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine is doing as we transition in Afghanistan.

He also said that because the Soldiers represent the 1 percent of the American population that is either willing or able to serve your nation that they have an additional responsibility – one that has to do with their professional conduct and behavior.

“The American people expect more from us,” Chandler said.