WASHINGTON (Aug. 22, 2012) — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the military must undergo three transitions in the coming years, with each dependent on finding the best way forward in lean economic times.
During a town hall Aug. 16, in Rosemount, Minn., Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told Minnesota National Guardsmen determining the best way to transform the military isn’t just about what’s best for the armed forces, but “really about figuring out what’s best for the country” in the years ahead.
“What does the nation need in 2020?” Dempsey asked. “How do we build that capability? How do we deliver in a way that’s affordable for the nation?”
“We’re all citizens first,” he said. “Therefore, I think we’ve got to figure out how to help the country through that economic challenge while preserving the military that it needs.”
Dempsey highlighted his three transitions. First, he said, is to move from a military that is generally focused on deploying for combat into one that can perform missions besides counterinsurgency.
Service members of his generation were criticized as being “stuck in [a] Cold War mentality,” Dempsey said.
“It was a challenge, I will admit to you,” he said, “for us to change the way we looked at problems from that Cold War paradigm into the counterinsurgency paradigm.”
“I would submit to you that those of you that have done nothing but [counterinsurgency] are going to have exactly the same challenge going back to looking at other kinds of warfare,” he said.
But that’s exactly what service members must do, Dempsey said. “Not because we think it’s on the horizon, but it could be someday and you can’t wait until it’s there to get ready for it.”
The second transition is economic, he said, and involves managing a shift from the “largely unconstrained budgets of the last ten years — ‘if you needed it you got it’ — to something that is going to be more constrained.”
That might make service members uncomfortable, the chairman said, but the military has an obligation to become more affordable to the country. “Why? Because national power is actually the aggregate of three things, not just the military,” Dempsey said. “It is the military, but it’s also economic well-being and it’s also diplomatic influence.”
The last transition is the drawdown of military members. Over the next five to six years, the Army and Marines will reduce in size by about 120,000 people in total, he continued.
“We owe it to those young men and women who have served so honorably and so well to make sure we take care of them,” Dempsey said.
“In all of that we’ve got to keep faith with our military family,” he said, adding that family includes veterans, wounded warriors and the parents and spouses of service members killed in action.
One way to keep faith as the Defense Department draws down is to guarantee that resources continue to be dedicated to family support programs, Dempsey said.
“The challenge of course, is we’ve got 1,000 flowers blooming out there,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we can identify the ones that are most important and ensure we continue to resource those.”
“The second way we keep faith is by pay, compensation, healthcare and retirement,” the chairman added.
Finally, he said, keeping faith with the military family means providing the toughest training possible.
“I’m not keeping faith with you if I resource all that other stuff and I don’t train you,” he explained, “because then I send you off to war and you’re not ready for it.”
“Change is always uncomfortable,” Dempsey said, “but often if we’re agile enough, the change can actually make things better for us and improve relationships, not disrupt them.”