WASHINGTON, July 29, 2014 —
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deanie, opened the Military Child Education Coalition’s 16th annual national training seminar here today with a panel of six high-schoolers who posed a variety of questions about today’s military.
For the fourth year, the Dempseys brought about 40 years of military service expertise in addition to child-rearing and grandparenting experiences to the two-day event that features lectures, panel discussions and hands-on lessons for education professionals working with military-connected children.
“On this day in 1968, Washington Senators baseball player Ron Hansen executed an unassisted triple play, the first one in 41 years,” the chairman began. “Now what does that tell you about life? You can’t do it by yourself. The rarity of that kind of event in baseball is just as rare as in everyday life, … and is especially true for our kids. We can’t do it ourselves. [We’ve] got to have a team, management and parents,” he said, noting the support that audience members would garner from this year’s seminar.
The six military and civilian high-schoolers, who participate in MCEC’s “Student 2 Student” program, which helps students acclimate to new schools, wanted to know what inspired Dempsey to make the military a career.
Service members are more likely to make the military a career if their first leader is someone they respect and want to emulate, Dempsey told the children.
“If you join, we can promise you you’ll have a sense of purpose that you might not otherwise find for a while,” Dempsey said. From the moment of entering military service, he added, there’s an accompanying sense of belonging.
“You’re part of the team, [and] you realize … you can’t do it by yourself, and you come to that conclusion pretty quickly,” he said of the military’s teamwork atmosphere. “It’s exhilarating to come to that realization.”
And the chairman told the students the military always is looking for people like them. “We need you personally and collectively, because America’s armed forces have to have the best and brightest to do what the nation wants us to do,” he told the student panel. “We want young men and women who don't see limits to their potential.”
Over time in the military, the chairman said, service members develop good instincts and a sense of how to “tie things together.”
All service members, Dempsey said, need five guideposts in their careers. As chairman, for example, he said, it’s his job to make sure the all-volunteer force prevails. Meanwhile, service members must make sure the military is a team effort, and the defense industrial base is necessary for future mobilization, building and growing a weapons or communications system.
Alliances with other countries also are vital, the chairman said. “We’ve got a lot of friends around the world that count on us,” he explained. “If they stop counting on us, that makes the world a much more dangerous place.”
Lastly, Dempsey said, “we have to stay who we are as a profession and [hold ourselves] to a set of standards -- as accountable and committed to serve the nation.”
The chairman told the students that service members can't go wrong with honesty, humility, competency and character, the last of which he said develops over time.
“With those four things together, you can go any place you want,” he added.
“Any team wants to be led, so if you’re in a position of leadership, you’ve got to lead,” Dempsey said. “If you fail to do that, someone else may or may not be able to pull it through, but it’s your responsibility, and you have to accept it.”
A leader’s first impression among his or her troops also is critical, he said. “You get one chance to make an impression with a team,” he said, “and that impression is irrevocable.”
Even with its team-effort approach, Dempsey said, the military is made up of individuals, and it’s vital that everyone on a team feels that leaders really care about them -- “not just about the team succeeding, but about them succeeding.”
Not only must the Defense Department ensure it invests in critical assets such as weapon systems, training and readiness, he said, “but also [in] our people, their families and children.”
Dempsey said his own instinct is that change is liberating. After 22 career moves around the globe, he said, his wife, Deanie, “has always done a great job making moves an adventure for the children.” He noted that their three offspring often felt sad to leave their friends, schools and activities behind.
As parents, the chairman said, he and his wife always tried to convince their children that new friends and experiences awaited them in the new location. “And by the way,” he added, “that’s the way it played out. You can get through life optimistically or pessimistically, and it’s a choice.”
The audience also posed questions for the Dempseys. A teacher sought advice on how to help in supporting military children in her classroom.
“I would say, ‘Know your audience,’” Deanie Dempsey, an educator, said. “It would behoove all teachers to know whether they have military kids in the classroom. Maybe Johnny’s dad has just deployed, and it would help you to know [that].”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)