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Gen. Dempsey's Town Hall at Yokota Air Base

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Yokota Air Base, Japan
MR. : Ladies and gentlemen, the 18th chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff.

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: That’s my kind of introduction. Sit down, please.

You know, normally, we get that big, long – telling me where I’ve been and what I’ve done and how long I’ve been alive, and it’s really quite depressing when you come right down to it. (Laughter.)

Really happy to be here. This is my wife, Deanie. We’re – hi. Great to see some youngsters in the audience.

We’re in the middle of a – of a swing, let’s call it, through the Pacific. We’ve started out in South Korea – and I was almost going to say Korea, but that – you might misinterpret that; it was South Korea, Republic of. And then we went to China, and now we’re back here.

And I wanted to take the chance to do a couple things here today. One, importantly, is to thank you for everything you do out here for your country and for our alliance with the Japanese, people of Japan. I’m well aware of the fact that 5th Air Force is the longest continuing serving numbered Air Force in our nation, in this area of the world, for over a hundred years. Most of – Coast Guard, huh? It’s like Sesame Street, you know, one of these things is not like the other. Oh, there’s another one. (Laughter.) No, I’m very proud of the Coast Guard, actually. I’ve got the Coast Guard crest on the back of my coin. I did ask permission, for the record, of the commandant, but I think it’s – we’re all part of one team in addressing our nation’s security.

So a couple things. I always like to – I’m going to, by the way, let you do most of the talking, but I’ll speak for a few minutes. I like to ask my staff to dig up some little matter of history – what happened on this day in history.

So today is April the 26th. And in – on April the 26th in 1994, karate master Mas Oyama died. Now, I’m not a – you could probably tell by my build I’m not exactly a karate guy, but I do appreciate the martial arts. I appreciate the discipline that comes with the martial arts. And this particular karate master, when he was 9 years old, he was given a sapling of a tree and told to plant it, to nurture it and, as it grew, to jump over it a hundred times a day. And I guess he was probably able to pull that off for a few years. I’m sure at some point it became a little unmanageable. But it was this discipline in doing a feat that others might have thought was impossible that I want to connect back to what you’re doing. You make the almost impossible seem pretty easy – Operation Tomogachi (ph) – Tomogachi (ph) or Tomodachi? I do that all the time – and also what you do out here as part of our strategy and in our effort to rebalance our focus, let’s call it, to the Asia-Pacific region.

Let me just say something about that and then something about the budget. Got to talk about – I got to say something about the budget. If I don’t, you’ll think I’m asleep at the switch. I don’t want that to happen.

But this rebalancing has gained a lot of interest in not only the places I just mentioned, the Republic of Korea, China and here, but it has also generated interest among our other allies – for example, our European allies. And what I’ve told anybody who will listen – which is really just my own personal family; everybody else – no, I’m kidding. Most everybody listens. But what I’ve told everybody is that this rebalancing is – it’s not a light switch or an on or an off. It’s not that we’ve been gone and we’re coming back. I mean, I just mentioned the 5th Air Force has been here for over a hundred years. It’s actually about recognizing where the future trends are moving. And they’re moving demographically to the Pacific, they’re moving economically to the Pacific, and they’re moving in terms of security issues to the Pacific.

And so like the great hockey player, Wayne Gretzky, who, when asked, how come you’re so good? You’re not very big or fast. And he said, well, I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been – we’re skating to where the puck is going, and we’re trying to position ourselves for a world where the priority on those issues – demographic, economic and security – will be the Asia-Pacific. And it doesn’t mean we’re going to pull – you know, we’re not going to take everybody that’s one place in the world and bring them over here. I would describe it more at this – first of all, we’ve said it’s going to take years for us to rebalance. We’ve got other requirements. We’ve got other responsibilities. We’ve got other alliances that matter. But over time, we will, in fact, rebalance to the Pacific.

And by the way, it’s not all about the military. This is a whole-of-government effort. So, you know, the first thing we’re doing is kind of rebalancing our – think about it as intellectual bandwidth. You know, we’re starting to pay more attention. We’re starting to do more engagements at every level. And we’re trying to send some of our best quality, not only human capital, but also some of our best equipment, our newest and most modern equipment. And we’re starting – we’re starting that journey. But it’s going to take years. And it’ll take years of engagement to help people understand what we’re doing and that whatever we do, we’ll stay true to our important alliances in the region while trying to build relationships with others, notably with China. And that was my message in China, by the way. We really do want a new relationship with you, but that new relationship has to account for and understand the context in which the United States has served in the Pacific for a very long time.

So that’s our rebalancing. And if you can help when you’re out on the town – behaving yourself – and you get into a conversation about what does this really mean, maybe you can – maybe you can help me out with that.

OK, the budget. It’s a mess. (Chuckles.) It’s just a real mess. I mean, if you ran your house like this, you’d get an Article 15. (Laughter.) Honest. Really. If you ran your budget like we’re running ours, you’d be a – it would be a – initially, it would be nonjudicial punishment, then we’d probably end up giving you a court-martial.

But we’ll get through it. This year in particular is difficult because we’re trying to absorb all of these changes in the last six months of the fiscal year. And we are generally about 80 percent spent with 50 percent of the year left, so we got 20 percent of what we thought we’d have to stretch ourselves out to the end of the year. It’ll – that’s going to have an effect on ’14.

I don’t whether you’ve seen – you can – I’d love to hear from you, by the way, if you’ve – if you’re feeling that, whether it’s base operating, support, child development center schools, gates – you know, there’s things that I can’t see sitting back in Washington where the effects of this are being felt. And I’d be happy to hear from you in that regard.

But just in terms of how do we get through this, we get through it by stretching our readiness as much as we – you know, being extraordinarily careful about where we spend our money – not that we’re not always careful. That’s the reputation, by the way. We are. But we’re going to have to be extraordinarily careful about how we spend our money for the rest of this year.

It’ll have an effect on ’14 because in some cases we’re pulling – you know, we’re not doing aircraft maintenance, we’re not flying as much as we need to, we’re not steaming as much as we need to. And we’re going to have to play some catch-up in ’14. So ’14 will be affected. And then we’ll – we’re working toward really getting our legs under ourselves in ’15 and beyond. So by the time you graduate from college, we’re going to be A-OK. (Laughter.) (Felix ?) still be about 5, is that about right? Yeah. I hope we can get rid – we can get ourselves together before that.

So that’s the budget. You know, some things that just are heart-wrenching, I don’t know how many civilian airmen who are civilian counterparts, DOD civilians we got in the audience, but, you know, this issue of furlough hangs over you, and that’s – you know, we are in – I am personally embarrassed about that, frankly. It’s not the way to treat people. And I promise you we’re – you know, we’re trying to whittle away at it. It started off at 22 days. We got it down to 14. And secretary of defense is – has asked us more – maybe not asked; told us, you know, I want you to get that number down as low as you can, and we will. But this is the idea of stretching readiness and figuring out, you know, how do we get to 30 September, because that’s the end of the fiscal year, and have a force that is still ready, and to make sure it’s ready, you know, money has to come out of modernization, maintenance, training, compensation. It’s a – it’s a challenge.

But, you know, it’s not the first time in our history. For some of you, it feels new. For me, it’s probably the third time, I guess, in 39 years of service that we’ve gone through something like this. It’s a pain in the neck. And you’d think we would learn lessons and not do it this way, but that’s not entirely under our control. So we are – you know, we are heading – the budget’s coming back to something like a historic norm. It’s just coming down faster than it really should, especially as it should given the security situation that we face across the globe.

But I’d like to hear from you. I mean, if you have a particular concern or a particular caution or if – you’re also welcome to compliment me. That doesn’t happen very often, but if you find yourself sitting there thinking, you know, I’m going to stand up and tell the chairman that he has really got this right, he’s a great-looking guy, fit as a fiddle – (laughter) – beautiful wife, eight – seven grandchildren and one on the way, you can do that if you’d like. I’d be happy to hear about it.

But I’ll also be – I promise you I’ll be – I will be happy if you want to tell me we don’t have it right. I come to town hall meetings counting on you to give me the – for you to help me learn. You know, I sit – in your parlance, I sit at about 60,000 feet, and you’re right down there on the deck. And so I come to these town hall meetings hoping that you can tell me what life is like on the deck. And then if you’d like to hear about it, I can tell you what life is like at 60,000 feet. But unless we keep that line of communication open, I think, you know, we might be making some mistakes along the way.

So with that, let me tell you that I’m proud of – I’m proud to be here. I’m proud of your service. As I told you, I’ve got 39 years and – which means I’m a lot closer to the end of it than some of you are. Every day I put the uniform on, I’m – you know, that little voice in my head says, not so many more days for you to wear the uniform, and I try to make the most of every day because of that. I know you do too. But I want to thank you for your service and tell you how proud we are of what United States forces in Japan, 5th Air Force in particular, are doing not only for your own unit but the Air Force, the Army, the Coast guard, the Marines and your nation.

So let me ask you to share some thoughts with me. What are your questions? Ah. Please.

Q: How you doing, sir?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Good. Thanks for asking.

Q: 730 AMS [730th Air Mobility Squadron]. I just want to know – I’ve seen a lot of your commercials. Do you have professional singing lessons? (Applause.) And do you have a Christmas album or holiday album coming out? (Laughter.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: Only if you consider Jack Daniels a singing instructor. (Laughter.) Is this – by the way, I should have asked, is this being televised? (Laughs.) (Laughter.)

STAFF: It’s online.

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, absolutely not. I wouldn’t – you know, look, I just – I mean, I sing – you know, there’s a psalm that says “How can I keep from singing?” I mean, I can’t tell you how good I feel about you and your service. And so, not that that causes me to burst into song, but it – (laughter) – at least you hope not. But, you know, I like to – I like to make sure people know that you can still be yourself even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, so that Major Rogers and – I don’t know what rank you are, I can’t tell –

STAFF: Tech Sergeant.

GEN. DEMPSEY: – and Tech Sergeant Mintz there – so you know you can be yourself. I mean, you know, that’s kind of why I do it, and it helps me connect to people. Especially little people, by the way. And – but thanks. That’s a great – I appreciate starting off with those kind of questions.

What else? Yeah.

Q: I recently read there might be general officer character review boards coming up.


Q: Could you expand, sir, on why that may be coming about?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, that’s – thank you for asking that. That’s a very interesting question because it’s something we’re doing that’s really important, but it’s kind of – it’s kind of – it’s kind of been pulled under the headlights a bit because of things like North Korea provocation, budget, you know, and so forth. But it’s really important. Please, have a seat.

So here’s the way I respond to that. About every 20 years – now, most of you in this audience are not at that 20-year point yet, but about every 20 years in our service, we do a self-examination of what it means to be a professional, because as you know, as you well know, we can’t afford to simply be a job or simply be an occupation. We all have occupational specialties – tech sergeant, tanker, airman, pilot, navigator, mechanic – but we’re all part of a profession. And you’re not a profession just because you say you are. You have to – you have to earn it. And by professional, I mean someone who lives to a – who has special skills and expertise, who commits to lifelong learning and development, both the institution and personally, self-development, who lives to a professional ethos, a creed, a set of values that makes it an uncommon way of life.

And I think you all agree, or I hope you agree, that’s what we aspire to be. We aspire to live an uncommon life, not pridefully – you know, not pounding ourselves on our chest saying, you know, we’re special and you’re not; in fact, maybe just the opposite of that, maybe with a servant soul. But the point is, you’re a profession if you accept that and then work toward it.

And what we found – the chiefs and I – this isn’t Dempsey’s idea – but what the chiefs and I found – that’s the chief of Air Force, chief of Naval Operations, commandant Marine Corps, chief of staff of the Army – what we found is that over the last 10 years, when you’re focused like a laser beam on wars – two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, global war on terror, that you start to forget to be introspective about what that’s done to us.

And by the way, I think it’s done some extraordinarily good things to us. Twenty years ago if you’d asked me will the force be able to fight – will the all-volunteer force be able to fight a prolonged conflict – that is to say, 10, 12, 14-year conflict – as an all-volunteer force, repeated deployments, and will it hold together or will we start having retention and recruiting problems, will we begin to have families who say, come on, I’m not the French Foreign Legion, you know, I got it that we’ll protect the nation, but 12 years – if you’d have told me 20 years ago we would have been able to come through this last 10 years with the strength that we’ve been able to muster, I’m not sure I would have believed it, frankly. But we did. So that’s one of the positive outgrowths, I think.

But there’s also some things we’ve done over the last 10 years that we really need to look at; you know, for example, our commitment to education. There were plenty of people who should have gone to school in those last 10 years – professional military education at various levels – who deferred it and who deferred it beyond when it was really useful to them. So I got – when I go to Afghanistan now and I run into a brigade commander who’s getting ready to come out of brigade command, so he’s an O6, he’s been in brigade command for 36 months, and I say, have you been to one of the war colleges? Oh, no, sir. When are you going to go? Well, when I come out of here. Well, you know, that’s not when you should go. You’re supposed to go to those war colleagues earlier in your career. So we build this educational development model so you’re ready to deal with complex issues as you – we got in some bad habits about education, and it is one of the pillars of our profession.

I also think now, to circle it back to your question about generals and flags, we also grew the general officer and flag officer corps in order to meet the requirement, and we probably overgrew it, so we intend to contract it. We’re already looking for about 144 reductions, but I think this next review will cause us to shrink it a bit more.

Secondly, in the last 10 years, we’ve had unconstrained resources. We’ve had – really, think about it as a blank check. We have. And the nation gave it to us because the nation asked us to go to war, and that’s the right thing. If you’re going to send the military to war, you need to support it. But it also created, I think, some bad habits, frankly. And you probably in your own lives have seen some of those bad habits of spending, and those we’ll need to ratchet back.

But also we got in the habit of surrounding general officers with a level of support that was probably excessive in some ways. And so we want to take a look at it. And not necessarily – this is not being critical of the general – I’m a general, in case you haven’t noticed – (laughter) – but I think we need to take a look at the level of support for general officers, flag officers, and decide whether, in a constrained resource environment, we can still, should provide the same level of support. My guess it will be – you know, that we’ll find places where we won’t, because everybody’s going to have to pull together to figure out this – figure out this budget thing.

But it’s not just about budget. We also – when you’re at war, you tend to value competence most. But in our profession – remember, I said it’s a profession – character has to count. Character has to matter. You have to find that balance of competence and character. You can’t have too much of either, really, meaning if you’re just the most competent guy that ever put a uniform on, or gal, but you don’t have character, I don’t really want you in my military. On the other hand, you could be – you could be the man or woman of highest character that’s ever been born, but if you can’t fight, I don’t want you in my military, if you’re not competent. So what we’re trying to do is go back to rebalance those buckets and emphasize, for a period, character.

So one of the ways we’re going to do it is 360-degree evaluations. I want to know what – and I think General – I think – I won’t name names. Everybody – I think we should want to know what our superiors think of us, our performance, and we get that through our FITREPs. I want – I think we should want to know what our peers think. It doesn’t mean we’re going to accept all of it carte blanche, but I think it’s healthy to know. And importantly, I think we need to know what our subordinates think of our leadership style, of our commitment to the profession, of our character. Now, all of that will paint a picture, and we haven’t decided what to do with that yet, but we know we need it, that it’s a healthy thing for the profession.

So that’s kind of the motivation, and we got to train – we got to train the general officer and flag officer corps a little differently. We got to train their staffs to be alert for perceptions, not just – you know, not just whether it’s a rule to be followed but what’s the perception you’re creating; what is the effect you’re having on the profession. Forget that it’s legal or illegal, what’s the – what’s it going to look like if somebody sees you staying in the Ritz-Carlton, you know, for four days and doing one hour’s worth of work? What – you know, is it legal? Probably. Is it smart? No, it’s not smart. And it’s a terrible perception for a profession that prides itself on selfless service.

Anyway, I wanged on about that because it’s really important. But look, I’m driving that at the joint and the GO, flag officer level, general officer and flag officer level. I think all of you have a role to play. I think the noncommissioned officer corps, the warrant officer corps, civilians – I think – you know, if you want to be part of this profession, I think you have to be introspective about what it means.

Good question. Thank you for my answer. (Laughter.)

Q: Good afternoon, General.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Could you grab me a water, somebody here? Thanks. Sir.

Q: (Off mic) I have a question about military retirement. There’s been a lot of –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. How old are you?

Q: – like, high-profile, like –

GEN. DEMPSEY: You got a 401(k)? (Laughter.)

Q: There’s been a lot of high-profile panels, like the Defense Business Board, et cetera, that have made recommendations about altering the military retirement system. And the one common theme from every single panel is to change pension – when pension benefits are being paid. So instead of at the 20-year mark, when somebody retires, they would have to wait until they’re 60 years old to collect pension, so there would be a 20-year gap before any payments are received. What are your – what are your thoughts on that? Do you think that’s going to happen?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I think that the retirement program – first of all, I’m talking to a group of individuals who will not be affected by that because every one of these studies concludes the same thing, which is that if someone came into the service with an expectation, a commitment to a particular retirement program, that should be honored. So the term “grandfathering” – you’ve probably heard that. And I don’t think – I haven’t heard anyone waffle about that.

OK, so I’m talking to you now about those who will follow you, although there are some derivations. You know, if you’re a really, really young member currently, and you happen to look out at a new program and decide, hey, I’d like to – maybe I’d like that program better than the one I came in believing I would get, that we probably have a way to laterally – it’s almost like going from a traditional to a Roth IRA.

But anyway, so let me tell you where you I think we’re heading. First of all, if you really want to kill an idea in Washington, D.C., form a committee or a commission on it. And that’s what we’ve done. Now, we didn’t do it to kill it, but what I’m suggesting to you is this is not going to happen very fast. It’ll – it will be a very deliberate process.

Secondly, I’ll tell you that I think – I do think we need to change. You know, as we – as we’ve figured out, I think change in our retirement system will be a good thing because it’s another one of those areas that puts unnecessary strain on the budget, because the way it works now is I have to assume you’re all going to retire, and so we put money in an accrual fund as though you’re all going to retire because if you all retire, I got to have the money to pay you.

The fact is guess how many people actually retire? Give me a percentage. Just somebody take – some – who’s got a degree in mathematics here? Who would admit that? (Laughter.) You know, take a guess, what percentage of people that come in actually retire?

Q: Thirty percent?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Thirty percent. Anybody else?

Q: Seventeen.

GEN. DEMPSEY: You said 18? It’s actually 17 (percent). So only 17 percent of you in this room will ever retire, I mean, on average. I hope it’s all of you, but the statistics suggest – so that accrual fund tends to suck money off of the budget every year that really doesn’t have to be sucked off the budget. Secondly, the other – so I think we have to change to figure out how to account for the reality of the all-volunteer force and what it – you know, how it thinks, as opposed to how I think, you know, my generation.

So you might find that, for example, a retirement system that allows you to pay in and have, you know, matching funds, that allows you to access it at 10 years at some level of support, or 20, or 30 – we’ll have to figure out how to incent – you know, we want to incentivize service, but we want to make it so that individuals have more choice at the front end, and so more people can access it while still making it affordable. And we can, I think. I mean, I think there’s ways to do it. And that’s, I – that is, I think, where we’re headed. But I think you’re going to see this take a few years.

The hardest thing to change in our system is anything related to compensation, health care and retirement, because it’s the veterans organization who – you know, who are wonderful. You know, they do great work for servicemen and women and their families and retirees. But they don’t really like to see systems change. There’s just – you know, they are there to, you know, keep the system alive. And that’s not – that’s not a way of being critical; that is their charter. And unless we can convince them we’re actually making it better for you, they – we tend to, you know, be at odds with each other. So that’s our job. We got to find a system that will be acceptable not only to those serving but to those who will serve and that we can reconcile with the veterans support organizations, who are watching out for all of us at some level.

The challenge is that – is that when you look at the way our budget is constructed, manpower costs are becoming overwhelming. They will overwhelm modernization and training if we’re not careful. And what I say to people – you know, I – you’ve seen some of the recommendations we’ve made about compensation in the most recent budget. And you know, some people are uncomfortable with it. But – and look, I am too, actually, uncomfortable in the sense that I don’t want to be the chairman known for having, you know, taken a machete to your paycheck. I mean, that’s not – that’s not the reputation I want to have. And we won’t.

But the other thing we’ve got to watch is I don’t want you being the most well-compensated military on the planet that doesn’t train. You know, you didn’t come into the Air Force – you know, if you’re a pilot, you came in the Air Force to fly. And if I got to park that thing until you – Jesus, I’d love for you to fly it, but I just really can’t afford it right now – how long are you going to hang around? So we’ve got to balance this thing. And we can if we get a little help back in Washington.

What else? Way back there.

Q: (Off mic) – I’m just wondering what you are seeing for the global power that we are. What does that mean for us as bases (off mic).

GEN. DEMPSEY: Boy, terrific question. You know, will we still be a global power? Will we be forward-deployed, forward-present? And by the way, it won’t surprise you to know that my Chinese colleagues asked me the same question. And – (laughter) – no, I mean, and not just them. And there’s plenty of people in the world who would very much like us to do less.

The fact is, you know, the world we live in today – and this isn’t boastful, but the world we live in today, particularly the global economic system in which we live today, and with many – and which many have benefited from, not just the United States, is really the product of the security that you all have provided globally, that we all have provided globally. And I don’t know – I don’t think – if you’re a thoughtful person about this – and I’m not speaking to you; I’m speaking to those who study this issue – I think the world without American stabilizing influence, whether it’s in freedom of navigation or open markets or access to resources or whatever it happens to be, I don’t think that – I don’t think that we can afford not to be the stabilizing influence that we’ve been. And, again, this isn’t about being boastful. I mean, you can just go back and look.

And so, although there are some who are hoping that this budget challenge, you know, rocks us back a bit, I think they actually are trying to have it both ways. They’d like this budget thing to rock us back but they still want us to provide the stabilizing platform. And I think we have to, so, I – you will – you won’t see us withdraw to Fortress America because we can’t – we can’t do that. But I do think we will likely have to find ways to do more things in a rotational – I think our forward presence in places like Japan and on the Korean Peninsula and Europe, you know, I – my personal view is we’ve about pared that back as far as we reasonably can and still have the kind of influence we want to have. Might there be some things on the margin? Sure, but I don’t think you’ll see a dramatic change in our forward stationing.

I think you’ll see – I think you’ll see changes in our deployment rotational presence whether it’s Navy, Air Expeditionary Forces, Army BCTs. I think we’re going to have to find a way to do – to accomplish almost the same thing but with smaller force structures; so, maybe not an entire ARG, Amphibious Readiness Group, or maybe not an entire AEF or maybe not an entire brigade combat team. I just think we need to think about doing things differently; leveraging Special Operating Forces different. So, we’ve got to – you know, we’re going to have to think about how to remain a global power with fewer resources and also managing it inside of an op tempo that is acceptable to you, you know, whether it’s when you're four-months deployed or 20-months home, or whatever it happens to be. And I actually – I’m actually quite confident that we’ll be able to figure that out.

Somebody over –

Q: Sir, Airman First Class –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, one more thing. Just keep this in the back of your head because you’re not going to remember a damn thing I just said, but remember this. (Laughter.) We are going to do – we’re going to do less with less but not less well. That’s the commitment. We’re going to have to do less with less but not less well. You’re still going to be the best-trained, best-equipped, best-led force on the planet.

Q: Sir, Airman First Class Gringrey, 374 Civil Engineering Squadron. My question pertains to the tensions on the Korean Peninsula right now –

GEN. DEMPSEY: There is?

Q: (Inaudible) – going off with the nuclear testing was recently brought up in Congress. My questions is, do we think this is likely that they will be utilized in the future? Is it expected? And then, if it is likely, how are we preparing for it with our budget issues and the plans for it? Also, thank you for taking your time, and I wanted to compliment you on some of the jokes you said earlier. They were kind of funny.

(Sustained laughter.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: Really? I’ve learned through the years that – remember I just said to that young man, you're not going to remember anything I said, but you remember the jokes. You know, at least I’ll make an impression on you. (Laughter.)

What – tell me again the connection in your question to the Congress.

Q: The fears [that were] recently brought up in Congress and there was some kind of, I guess, there was reports coming in that wasn’t aware to the U.S. military. It was coming, like, feeding through. And I was wondering – I mean, I know, and I have confidence in our leadership that we’re preparing for this. But I actually would like to hear it from that level and know what’s going on since we’re all in this area and we’re all prepared for it.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure, OK. No, that I can – OK, so here’s the – here’s a couple of things to note. Number one – please have a seat – we are prepared for whatever – if there’s a provocation, a tactical provocation, artillery, a naval encounter, a Special Operations Force, that’s a tactical encounter on the peninsula and we’re prepared. You know, we’ve got 29,000 U.S. servicemen and women over there, and some family members – about 4,600 families or so. And I stopped there on this trip and I had exactly that – you know, are we ready for this menu of possibilities? And the answer is yes.

There’s also a possibility of a strategic provocation. A missile launch, another nuclear test, and there’s other possibilities as well. But the one that’s got your attention is the missile launch. And I can tell you that we are postured with our Japanese allies, by the way, in order to protect our citizens, their citizens, our facilities, their facilities. And that will remain the case as long as that provocation is at risk.

But, you know, when I was traveling around the region, there were some who said, you know, you’re just using this excuse to put more forces in the – in the – in the Pacific. So, for example, we moved a THAAD battery to Guam; air defense battery to Guam. And I told – I reminded them that we didn't change the status quo. We didn’t – we’re – you know, we didn't start this cycle of provocations. We responded to it, as you would expect us to respond. We are in a posture of deterrence; we’re seeking to deter North Korea from provocation. Assurance – we’re assuring our allies and ourselves that if we have to defend ourselves that we’re capable of doing so. And we’re in a posture of preparedness.

We just finished a big exercise on the peninsula called Foal Eagle. And, again, some say, ah, you know, that was – you know, that was a provocation of the North Koreans. No, not really. In fact, in 39 years, I – if I haven’t learned anything, I’ve learned that the best way to avoid the worst is prepare for it. And we’ll continue to do whatever exercises we need to do to make sure that we have the right command and control, the right skills, the right collaboration and interoperability with our allies in the region in the event that there is a miscalculation. So, we’re OK.

And by the way, you – I think you said, are we still able to do what we need to do even in the face of a budget challenge? The answer is absolutely yes. You know, if we put someone at risk in uniform and their families, we will not spare the expense of making sure they’re prepared. So, we haven’t degraded any of our activities in Afghanistan, in the Gulf, on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, and that’ll remain true. But what it does mean, by the way, is that some of your teammates back in CONUS are doing less than they probably should be doing.

On this side. Yes, sir.

Q: Alan Joseph with 374th Communication Squadron. Thank you, sir, for taking the time out and sharing your vision and your insight with the men and women of the Yokota. We appreciate it.

We have the responsibility for maintaining the cybersecurity for the base here. There’s been a lot of talk, and certainly news, with respect to threats emanating from actors within this region of the world. Given the rebalance in the Asia-Pacific, are there plans to divert or provide resources or focus with respect to shoring up our cybersecurity posture within the region, sir, is my question. Thank you.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, in both last year’s budget and this year’s, there were three areas that were, let’s call it, advantaged. And advantaged could mean an increase in budget support or it could mean we just didn't take anything away from it. And those three areas were cyber, Special Operating Forces and C4ISR – Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. Those areas in the budget were protected, and they were protected because they either are areas of great vulnerability, like cyber, or areas of great opportunity, like cyber.

And so part of my answer to you is that we – just as we won’t under-resource our combat forces and our forward-deployed forces, we will also ensure that we continue to invest in cyber because it is – it is this – at least the first part of this century’s greatest opportunity and greatest vulnerability.

As to the – what we’re doing specifically in this region, that’s a much longer answer. But, you know, we are – for example, two things of note. One is, we’re forming cyberoperation – operational command and control architectures in each combatant command, starting with CENTCOM and PACOM, but eventually each combatant commander will have a cyber operating center. And that – some of that’s already going on, but we’re going to standardize it and we’re going to resource it.

Secondly, we’re working with our Korean – my stop in the Republic of Korea, we’re working with our ROK allies on how to organize ourselves as an alliance in cyber.

Beyond that, what I can tell you is that most other activities in cyber actually are relating to the homeland, and in particular how we can contribute to the defense of the homeland in cyber. Right now – our only responsibilities in the homeland right now are to protect the dot-mil domain, as you know. The other domains are vulnerable. Some of them are protected by private corporations; some are not. All of them are connected into the critical infrastructure on which we rely, and that’s why our vulnerability is – I am uncomfortable with our degree of preparedness, because even though we’re protecting dot-mil, you know, the posts, camps and stations around America are all linked in to the critical infrastructure of the United States. So we are working not only with other partners like Homeland Security, FBI but also assisting in educating the Congress of the United States on how we could get some legislation to make ourselves better prepared in cyber. So I mean, that’s – this is a really complex issue, but I assure you that we are seized with it, trying to get our allies as seized with it. And if I can do any more than that, let me know.

Yeah, way in the back.

Q: Good afternoon, sir. Captain Chiles from 5th Air Force Public Affairs. Just asking –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Did you say public affairs?

Q: Yes, sir, I did.

GEN. DEMPSEY: This is like fratricide, man. (Laughter.)

Q: It is, sir. It absolutely is. It is my understanding that recently you went to China and met with China’s chief of staff, General Fang. I’m just curious, what did you discuss with him, and was any of that involved with the recent tensions in Korea? And then also, do you foresee China taking a bigger role in regional stability through things such as neutralizing cybersecurity attacks, more humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts and things like that? I’m interested just to hear your thoughts on that.

GEN. DEMPSEY: This is like a master’s thesis about – (inaudible). (Laughter.)

Q: Yes, sir. I apologize.

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, that’s OK. Had a great – sit down, please. I had a great trip into China. And look, first of all, let me give you the theme of the outcome. The theme was, we both aspire to a new, different and better relationship, but that relationship has to be approached in the context of our other responsibilities and alliances in the region. And I – you know, I said, look, I’m with you in working together to build the new relationship, but you’ve got to understand I don’t come to this, you know, without some preexisting obligations that we will meet. And I think – frankly, I think there was a general understanding of that.

On their side, of course, there were the territorial issues, whether they’re East China Sea, South China Sea, Taiwan. We did talk about cyber. We also talked about opportunities. You mentioned humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, also peacekeeping. We did talk about cyber as an opportunity, and medical. Those are the things we’re kind of doing already.

And then we talked about, you know, are there other things we can do – for example, come to a better understanding about their vision for the future. You know, and they – their vision, they recently published a white paper, and they – their thinking is local, if you will. They want to focus locally. And I simply pointed out that, you know, with power comes responsibility. And, you know, and that’s why we’re here. That’s why you find the United States, you know, enabling freedom of navigation globally. That's why you find the United States interested in how big nations and small nations interact. And, you know, so it was a very healthy dialogue with some commitments about next steps. And I sensed some sincerity in that. I mean, I sensed a great deal of sincerity in that.

And but I also pointed out to them that this – this is not likely to be a straight line. I mean, you know, this is going to have some twists and turns. And not to overuse the metaphor, but there will be some potholes in the road. But yeah, you know, look, the future of the Asia-Pacific region, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t aspire to a peaceful, prosperous China. I mean, that’s got to be everyone’s – in everyone’s best interest because they are such an economic engine on which most of the countries in this region – in which most of the countries in this region have a stake, as do we. So the question is how do we accommodate their desire to focus locally but with – but with the reality of their economic influence. So it’s fascinating, actually.

But I found my counterpart to be very bright, you know, very much up on the issues, very engaging. And I felt – I felt that it was a trip absolutely worth making.


Q: (Off mic) – lot of attention from the western media now on the Senkaku Islands off the coast of Japan. (Off mic) – especially as far as reaching out, you know, trying to get Chinese assistance. And roughly about a month and a half ago, Secretary Clinton had asserted the U.S.’s support for Japan’s territorial rights to the Senkaku Islands. If we want to get China more in the game and they said we had to stop supporting Japan, and let go of the islands, are we willing to lose the points with Japan and getting points from China? (Laughter.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: You realize you’re asking me this question in Japan. (Laughter.) No, I’m kidding.

By the way, you want a job in my J5? (Laughter.) Look, there are – as I explained in China, there are territorial disputes all over the world. It’s just not – it’s not limited to the East China, same with South China. Have a seat, by the way.

In every case, the position of the United States is clear, and that is that we expect mature, rational nation states to resolve those disputes peacefully through diplomacy and economic exchange or whatever instruments they choose to use except military. The issue in the East China Sea that you raised has a somewhat different challenge for us because we have a treaty alliance with the Japanese that calls for us to support them in a military confrontation on the issue of their sovereign territory. And I made it clear that the – one of the things you can count on with the United States is that we will live up to our treaty obligations, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take a position of not influencing, not seeking to influence the outcome of territorial issues. And notice I didn’t use the word “dispute” because only one side in that particular issue actually acknowledges a dispute. So it’s very complicated.

But to your question, would we trade off our relationship with Japan in order to have a stronger relationship with China, the answer is no. Japan has been our strongest ally in the region, you know, for 60 years, and that’s not going to change. And that’s the point I made to the Chinese. Look, I do want a better relationship with you, but don’t make this an either/or for the United States. And by the way, I was going to hire you until you said Secretary Clinton. Secretary Kerry is the secretary of state. (Laughter.)


Q: (Off mic) – and based on your experiences – thank you. OK. Based on your –

GEN. DEMPSEY: You tried to man up and she said, no, here you go. (Laughter.)

Q: I tried, sir. Did what I could.

GEN. DEMPSEY: All right.

Q: Based on your experiences thus far as a chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, what words of wisdom or candid advice would you have for the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and also, in turn, did you have any memorable words of wisdom from your predecessor?

GEN. DEMPSEY: (Chuckles.) You know, I was actually minding my own business as the chief of staff of the Army and was asked to become the chairman. People – yeah, I do have some thoughts. I mean, people think, boy, what a terrible job it must be, you know, with everything going on in the world, and then, you know, not to mention the budget challenges. We’re coming out of two conflicts in the Mideast. So I wouldn’t describe the job as fun, really. I mean, as much as I enjoy this, the job on a daily basis doesn’t rise to the level where, you know, you would giddily, in your diary, say, wow, today was a really fun day. (Laughter.)

But it is the most rewarding experience I could ever imagine. I mean, imagine someone asking you to provide our most senior leaders of government with military advice on how to keep our nation secure, how to make sure that our responsibilities globally are accomplished, how to make sure that we remain steadfast and true to our allies, how we seek to form new relationships, all in the context, right now, of budgetary restrictions. I mean, it’s as intellectually stimulating as it could possibly be. I mean, you’re – my mind is never at rest. I dread waking up in the middle of the night because I know there’s no way I go back to sleep because, you know, as soon as I’m awake, you know, the switch gets flipped, and off I go.

But it is – if – and – but here – but look, it’s not just about being a chairman. Let me – so I don’t know why you all came in the service. We all came in for different reasons. You look like a guy that probably either had that or jail, but I don’t know. You know – (laughter) – but you know, we all came in for different reasons. But I think at some level, you wanted to come in because you felt like you wanted to belong to something bigger than yourself. You appreciated the values that define us. Back to the question about a profession, that’s why these values are so important. It’s what attracts people to us. You wanted to make a better life for your family, but even more important, for your children, and in my case now, for my grandchildren.

At some level, that’s there. I hope it’s – I hope it’s there a lot because that’s really what it’s about, not just getting your day-to-day job done today, but you know, how do you make sure that you leave this great country of ours a little better than you found it? If that’s why you came in or if that’s a motivating factor for you, you are here at exactly the right time. If ever you wanted to make a difference, this is when your country needs the difference to be made. We need to make a difference now in this new century with incredibly complex relationships, the proliferation of information, you know, the – a persistent threat of terror, nuclear proliferation.

I mean, you know, if – you’re never going to be bored. That much, we will promise you. You will always feel like you’re doing something important. And that’s whether you’re the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the most junior airman in this – in this building. But it is an extraordinary time to serve, and that’s why I come and chat with folks like you.

Q: Is it just deployment areas, or are all overseas together?

GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, it’s a little early for me to know. Have a seat, please. What we’re doing now is taking a look at – we call it a strategic choices management review, fancy name. But there are some – there are some dials we can turn that actually can generate incredible savings if we want to do it. One of them is the frequency of PCS moves. PCS moves are extraordinarily expensive. So you could see longer tour lengths.

Now, on the other – but there’s a counterpoint to be made. I grew up, in my career, in an Army where if you stayed in one place more than three years, they branded you on your forehead as a homesteader because the expectation was that they wanted to put you into a variety of environments so that you could become adaptable, so that, for example, if you stayed at Fort Hood, Texas, too long, you don’t even have to use a map after a while to navigate, or a Blue Force Tracker; you’ve just been there for so long, you just drive around, and you use all the Hollywood call signs for all the terrain features, and you don’t really have to think about it. And in that day – I’m talking about my youth – they moved us around more frequently so that you would be introduced into unfamiliar circumstances and have to adapt. I actually – I think it is one of the ways we produce adaptability is by putting you in places where it’s new and unfamiliar and therefore you have to adapt.

So that’s the counterpoint. It’s save money by leaving you in one place, vis make you a more adaptable future leader by moving you around more often and exposing you to more things, like the Japanese culture, for example. And I don’t know where it’s going to come out. My guess is that there’ll be – you know, each service may approach it differently. This is one area where each service might have a different model. And I’d be OK with that, you know, as long as we understand the model.

So you’re going to see us explore all of those things. Any way we can become more efficient with our money but not lose our effectiveness or lose who we are – back to education, by the way, you know, the one thing we can’t do is convince ourselves that all we really need to do is distance learning, you know, over your iPad. Some of it will be that, but we also got to pull you together from time to time in professional military education so you can get to know each other. So those are kind of the balance – we’re trying to find that balance.

OK, I think I got the hook. Unless somebody’s got, like, the question that you’ve always wanted to ask the chairman – OK. Well, look, let me end where I began. On behalf of my wife, Deanie, on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, let me tell you how proud we are of all of you, how much we appreciate the family members that are over here who are serving with you and who represent – you know, you are kind of, like, a whole auditorium full of American diplomats. And people form their impression about the United States of America because of their interaction with you. And I couldn’t be prouder of what you’re doing. And thanks to your leadership team for hosting us. I hope it hasn’t been too disruptive. And God bless you all. Thank you. (Applause.)

I didn’t get a standing O that time, did I? How come you didn’t clap?

Q: (Off mic.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: How come you didn’t clap?

Q: (Off mic.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: You – go ahead, start. You start it. OK, pick it up! (Applause.)