Martin E. Dempsey, DOD: Developing Leaders is Job One

January 17, 2012

Service equities, the U.S. relationship with Iran and Pakistan, and the future of women in combat topped the questions put to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a town hall meeting here yesterday with ROTC cadets.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke to 400 tri-service cadets from Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Central University, St. Augustine College and Meredith College.

ROTC is a college-based officer-commissioning program that focuses on leadership development, problem solving, strategic planning and professional ethics.

“Think about leader development as job No. 1 and you’re off to a good start,” the chairman told his audience.

Faced with a dynamic between the two world wars that is similar to the Pentagon’s transitional situation today, Army Gen. George C. Marshall invested most heavily in leader development, Dempsey said.

“He knew that if he had the right leaders, once things clarified he’d call upon them to get it right, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” he added. “It’s about leader development. That’s the biggest lesson we’ve learned.”

The chairman stood alone on the stage. He made the cadets laugh, told them stories and showed them a fast-moving music video of warfighters at work that boomed with the heavy-metal song “Indestructible” by the Chicago band Disturbed.

He reassured them that they had not missed their chance to test themselves on the fields of battle.

“You can see Iraq and Afghanistan stabilizing a bit as you sit there wondering what it means for you,” Dempsey said. “[But] your country, I would suggest, needs you more than ever now to get us through [this] period of transition.”

One cadet asked about complaints that Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan had been doing the same jobs as soldiers. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos has a “great vision” for a lighter, more austere Marine Corps that fundamentally establishes expeditionary capability as its core competency, the chairman said.

The Army lays claim to being both expeditionary and of campaign quality -- meaning they go and stay until the mission is over, Dempsey said. “And I think the distinction is important,” he added, “because here’s the truth: as joint forces, we really can’t do without each other.”

The individual service cultures are a great strength of the joint force, just as diversity is a great strength of the nation, he said. But enemies over the past decade have decentralized, syndicated to work together, networked to improve communication, and gone global, the general noted.

“To defeat a network we have to be a network, so one of the things we’re talking about in our emerging defense strategy is the next document that will be published, which is the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations,” the chairman said.

The title, he added, may refer to a global networked approach to warfare because even the conventional force has adapted. “It’s decentralized, it’s networked, and it’s syndicated with a lot of different partners,” he said.

If the Defense Department accepts the challenge to take a global networked approach between now and 2020, Dempsey said, “I think you’ll see each of the services change its organizing principles and … operating concepts to become networked.”

“I think the nation will be well served by that,” he added, “and we can be a little smaller and pull it off.”

In response to a question about the U.S. relationship with Iran, the chairman acknowledged it’s a difficult problem. “We haven’t yet fully grasped the complexity of the issues, … and that’s where I’m spending most of my time,” he said.

On U.S. dealings with Pakistan, Dempsey said his close personal relationship with that nation’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is helping to get the two nations’ militaries through recent rocky relations brought on in part by the tragic deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers during a November NATO air attack.

Dempsey and Kayani, who once were classmates at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., spoke earlier this week about a U.S. Central Command report on the investigation of the attack.

“When things are most heated in the relationship,” the chairman said, “we have the ability to engage each other on the basis of a personal relationship.”

Another cadet asked about the status of a change in the rules that keep women from serving in combat. Removing such restrictions is a two-step process, Dempsey said.

“I’ll use the Army as an example,” Dempsey said. “If you are a military intelligence analyst, there are some restrictions about where you can serve in the battlefield. For example, you can’t be on a military training team.

“That is completely ludicrous,” he continued, “because that’s not the kind of battlefield on which we operate. It’s not linear; it is circular -- 360 [degrees]. We’re going to knock that out of the way, so if you’re a female soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, you serve where you’re needed.”

The second step is the more challenging one, he added, not just because of military rules but because the issue has attracted congressional interest. It involves lifting a ban on women serving in direct ground combat units -- tanks, artillery and infantry.

“I personally believe that on my watch … I think that will begin to change. … It’ll change on your watch, for sure, if it doesn’t change on mine,” the chairman told the cadets. “And I think we’ll be better for it.”

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