It was the quietest Town Hall Army in which Gen. Martin E. Dempsey has ever taken part.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hosted his first Town Hall on Facebook today, answering questions sent to him on the ubiquitous site from around the world.
The chairman logged onto his Facebook account at 1:45 p.m. EST from his E-Ring office. He looked at suggested replies written by his staff to the hundreds of questions sent in, and proceeded to rewrite them as he answered on line.
The session was supposed to last half an hour, but Dempsey stretched it to almost 50 minutes. “These people took the time to write and submit these questions,” he said after the session. “It’s important I take the time to answer them.”
The chairman dealt with topics ranging from budget cuts to China, and from sexual assault to commissaries.
He took on rumors that DOD will close stateside commissaries, responding that the department has no plans to do so. However, the directors of the Defense Commissary Agency have been tasked to look at a range of options “including how they would operate with less or no taxpayer subsidies,” Dempsey said. “We’ve got to drive toward greater efficiencies and this is just one of the potential areas.”
All aspects of the DOD budget need to be examined for savings, he said. “We’re well aware of the need for acquisition reform as well as the need to reduce unnecessary infrastructure and retire unneeded weapons systems,” the general said. “All of the institutional reforms are intended to produce a single outcome: the best trained and best equipped service men and women on the planet.”
Consideration will be given to how changes will affect service members, their families and retirees, he said.
The chairman gave a quick run-down on the fiscal 2014 budget saying that a House-Senate budget conference is currently looking at offsetting some of the sharp spending reductions that have been imposed by the budget sequester, but the outcome of those talks is uncertain, he said.
“We certainly don’t want to see a repeat of last October, and we’re doing our part to articulate the challenges we’re facing,” Dempsey said, referring to the partial government shutdown that kept hundreds of thousands of government employees off the job without pay during an impasse over spending.
Many taking part in the town hall were concerned about China declaring an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea. The chairman stressed the United States does not recognize the Chinese zone. “We continue to fly in the area because it’s international air space, not sovereign territory,” he said. “In short, our military operations will not change.”
Dempsey also took a longer view of Sino-U.S. relations. “From a realist perspective, nations will act in their interests all the time. China is no different,” he said. “So as the dynamics in the region continue to change (and they are always changing), we must build stronger military-to-military relationships with the (Peoples Liberation Army). We must seek avenues and mechanisms to avoid miscalculation.”
The United States must continue to work with allies and strengthen relations with other Asia/Pacific nations. “We’ve been clear with the Chinese that territorial disputes should not be resolved unilaterally and through coercion,” the chairman said. “We all benefit from stability in the Pacific, and I assess that the Chinese are clever enough to realize that.”