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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the Points of Light Service Unites Conference on Volunteering and Service

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Washington, D.C.
Thanks - thanks a lot. Well, this is a great way for me to end my week; I hope it's - it turns out to be a great way for you to end your week. Thanks for being here at the convention writ large, but [also] on this military line of effort--the military summit. And I want to compliment all of you, the leadership of this organization for strapping this on. And I'll just share a couple of - really, they're fleeting thoughts.

Sometimes I find those to be the most profound, actually. I'm just back from a trip to - I spent the last week in the continental United States. I have to go overseas almost constantly. Every once in a while, I'll force myself to go out into the hinterlands and visit the young men and women who are serving their country in this country - inside the continental United States. So this week it happened to be the Air Force primarily, and it happened to be Minot, North Dakota, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Scott Air Force Base just outside of St. Louis. And of course, at Minot most of you - some of you I hope, would know that that's about a third of our intercontinental ballistic missile fleet.

And we've got a group of incredible young men and women up there who are people - we frankly don't pay much attention to them, and that's good, because what they do is both important but also the kind of - a part of the - of this enterprise that's so hard to talk about. You know, nuclear weapons are an important deterrent; the prospect is just frightening, but up there, you've got these young men and women for 24 hours a time about every third day, about 60 feet underground managing that enterprise. And they do so with incredible - an incredible sense of duty, with an incredible amount of courage and dedication, and their families, who are living - I mean, I'm not going to insult anyone, but Minot, when I was up there, it was pretty nice, actually, but in the middle of winter it can be a rather challenging place. Anybody from North Dakota? Ah, I rest my case. (Laughter.)

So anyone, you've got that - I went and visited the B-2 - we have 20 B-2s in the military; they're our long-range strike. You'll get these young aviators who will strap themselves into the B-2 and fly on a mission out and back with seven or eight refuelings along the way, and they'll spend 36 to 40 hours in the cockpit of a B-2 to do what the nation wants them to do - needs them to do, to have a deterrent effect on our enemies and an assuring effect on our allies.

And then Transportation Command, which is where we manage all of the - literally the transportation and the distribution of supplies in this enterprise. And they do what they do without a lot of fanfare, and they save us a lot of money. I know we don't get much credit for that, but they do really save us a lot of money.

So why do I mention that? Because it's not just about - you know, the reason that we're all so interested in figuring out how to connect the United States military to communities is largely because we're coming out of 10 years of war, somewhat related to the fact that because of budget changes, we will reduce the size of the armed forces, and that has given us a new energy, a new impetus, maybe to strap this on.

But I want to remind you that it's - that there's still a lot of things that go on beyond that - beyond the war, beyond the fact that the force is always expanding and contracting, and we will need to be partnered with governmental agencies, but importantly, the private organizations for the foreseeable future if we hope to have any chance of doing what's right for these men and women who serve their country so selflessly.

On this day in history - I told you these were fleeting thoughts; here comes fleeting thought number two. On this day in history in 1787, New Hampshire signed the Constitution - ratified the Constitution, thereby enacting it into law on this day. And I was - when I saw that - and that's part of this day in history - I was reminded that the first line in the preamble of the Constitution says, "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union," dot, dot, dot, dot, dot. "In order to form a more perfect union." It doesn't say we the government of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union; it says "we the people of the United States," because I think - I think the framers even then understood that the future of the United States was somewhat related to the ability of our government to account for the needs of the people and to provide governance and structure.

But I also think that they also had a sense that what makes America great is really not our government - and I would - I will not add anything to the end of that sentence. (Laughter.) But it's we, the people, who come together when something needs to be done, and we work to get it done. And we get it done locally, we get it done regionally - sometimes nationally. But sometimes, what I've found - and I think you have too - the best solutions tend to be those that derive from the bottom up, not from the top down. And there is no template to what we're asking of you in order to engage, help and support those who wear the uniform. There's no template.

I mean, I know there's a blueprint, and that's actually working quite well. But that's one path - that's one on this journey. There could be others, and so the second fleeting thought here is that I hope you can help us think our way through the challenges ahead and find local solutions that may not always be applicable nationwide but might really work where you work or live.

And then the third fleeting thought is that next week, on the first of July, it will be the 40th anniversary of the all-volunteer force. Forty years ago - 1973, 1 July, the all-volunteer force came into being so that, from that point forward, it's young men and women who volunteer to serve their country who are serving their country in uniform - no longer a conscript force. We have men and women who choose to do this. And I think that - to use the words of the president [George] H.W. Bush in his 1991 State of the Union address - he said that we have to make - we the country have to make a commitment to those who serve equal to this commitment that those who serve make to the country. And I really believe that. And so when we - as we get ready to - and we'll recognize that anniversary of the all-volunteer force. I think it's an opportunity for all of us to recall that it is volunteers who now protect our way of life, and anything we can do for them - anything you can do for them, you know, through this public-private partnership in however you choose to do it will, it seems to me, be worthy of the effort and worthy of their sacrifices.

So on behalf of the millions of men and women that I represent in uniform and their families who support them, I want to thank you for your efforts here this week. I want to thank you not only for what you've done, but I hope, for what you do and continue to do. I want to assure you that the United States military is and will remain the finest military force on the face of the planet, and we will keep our nation immune from coercion, which is our sacred responsibility. And in so doing, we will seek to be the best possible citizens of America and good stewards of the resources that are given to us, whether those resources are young men and women or dollars in the Defense budget. So thank you very much for your presence here today, and congratulations on what I've heard has been a very successful summit. I wish each of you a safe travel home, wherever home happens to be, and God bless you and God bless America. Thank you. (Applause.)