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Gen. Dempsey's Town Hall at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, Washington


By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Naval Base Kitsap Bangor, Washington
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: All right. Thanks. Well, Deanie and I and the team that I travel with are delighted to be here with you in the Pacific Northwest. I just don’t know what the hell you’ve all been complaining about the weather for. I don’t know. (Laughter.) It looks pretty good to me.

I also heard a couple of young – youngsters out there, and I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about the little voices I heard. That’s great. I’m glad you brought them. If they get – they want to wander up and see what this old guy’s really all about, let them come. If they want to chat, that’s great. Don’t worry about that, please.

So – but we’re honored to be here with you and to share some thoughts with you. And most of the – mostly what we’ll do is give you the opportunity to tell us what’s on your mind, ask us questions. And we’ll engage in a very candid conversation with you to the extent that we know. You know, one of the things, when I was you, you know, you always thought, well, they really know, whoever they are, they know. They just aren’t – really can’t tell you. No, the truth is we really don’t know. And some – I don’t know whether you’re going to find that to be comforting or distressing, but there’s a lot of things we just don’t know. It’s a very uncertain world.

What I can tell you we do know is we’re going to be OK because of you. I’ve never met – I mean, I – you know, I’ve never met young men and women, some not so old – I mean, some not so young men and women, but I won’t go to – try to distinguish among you in that regard – but who are so impressive in your – in your intellect, your energy, your dedication, your resilience, your enthusiasm, your optimism. And as long as we keep that, by the way, and continue to trust each other, you know, we’ll get through whatever the world can throw at us. So that I do know, and I’ll just set that aside for a second.

And we’ll talk about some issues that are of interest to you and might be concerning to you. But never forget that the foundation on which we’re building – or the foundation on which we’re shrinking; there’s going to be some shrinking too – but the foundation is so solid that we’re going to be fine.

And if you don’t remember anything else I said, remember two things. One, thank you for your willingness to serve, and I mean you plural and cumulatively, that’s those of you that wear the uniform and those of you that support those who wear the uniform. And the second thing is, you know, if you stick together, we’ll be fine.

Let me say a couple other things, though. Have anybody here from Bremerton in particular? Anybody here from the – from the Stennis? That is probably any spouses from the Stennis? One. Thank you. You know, we turned you around pretty quick, and we had to do that, because we had some challenges in the – in the Gulf region, as you know, and we really needed that extra – you know, that little touch of America that only an aircraft carrier can bring. And so we turned you around pretty quick, and I had a little experience with that myself in Iraq in 2004, and I know how challenging that can be on especially family members, so thanks for your service. And please convey that to the – you’re one of one in the audience today, so I need you to get on the blog and contact the Stennis and tell them the chairman said thanks.

Secondly, those of you in the strategic submarine service at this – the strategic forces of the nation represented in the SSBN fleet, mostly represented right here at Bangor, congratulations to you. I mean, for one thing, I know that two months ago you received a Meritorious Unit Citation in recognition of the service that you provide and have been providing in a very quiet, professional and flawless way over decades of service. And so from time to time, I think it’s incumbent on those of us who are the senior leaders of our military to thank you for what you do.

And we just toured the – we looked over the railing at [USS] Louisiana and toured the [USS] Maine. And we also went and – anybody here work with family members who were deployed on the [USS] Jimmy Carter? No, at least nobody that will admit it, huh? OK, there you are.

Another – I mean, another national asset, you know, all of these – all of – and it’s really – by the way, let me clear that up. It’s not the metal that makes it a strategic asset; it’s you who make it a strategic asset, because it’s – you know, equipment is equipment. And I tell people – I promise them a couple of things as chairman. We won’t get the equipment exactly right, and we won’t get the organizational design exactly right. And I’ll probably give you some guidance a little later than you need it. I’ll promise you that.

But the reason I know it’ll all get pulled together is because you’re out there at the other end of it figuring it out. So those of you in the strategic forces of our nation, thank you for your service. I see some Marines in the audience. I assume you’re from the group that protects those strategic resources right here at Bangor and elsewhere.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oo-rah.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oo-rah is right. (Chuckles.) You know – and in fact, you shouldn’t even be in this audience. You ought to be out there walking that fence line. (Laughter.) But I’m assuming you’re off shift. If you’re not, let me know. I’ll shorten my speech. (Laughter.)

But, you know, every place I go I run into – I was just in Helmand province in southwest – RC-Southwest a week ago yesterday and spent the day with the – your fellow Marines that are down there helping us pass this transition of security to the Afghans and to set the conditions for an Afghanistan that will be able to secure itself, that’s really the goal. And if I what I saw in south – in RC-Southwest is any indication, I have confidence that we will achieve that mission on the timeline we’ve established, but also for what you’re doing here, you know, and elsewhere, you know, whether it’s in embassies around the world that are a little challenged from time to time by events in the media and elsewhere. You all are an extraordinarily steadying influence on us, on those we work with, like the State Department and others, and on our potential adversaries. So it’s a great team, and I really appreciate what you do for it.

Couple of – so this date in history – back to the Stennis. You know, we sent the Stennis over to the Gulf. On this date in history – well, it was really 1 October of 1990 – we sent the Independence, the aircraft carrier Independence, into the Gulf. First time we had a carrier in the Gulf since ’74. And you know why we did it. We did it because Saddam Hussein had attacked and invaded Kuwait. And we needed immediate presence, and, you know, who you going to call? And so off went Independence and entered the Gulf, and by the way, we’ve been there ever since. So it goes back to that date, you know, now 21 years ago – 22 years ago. So, you know, there’s a long history of things that happen to the nation and your ability and willingness to respond to them.

Is Julia Maki’s sister in the audience, I’m told? Julia Maki. You probably know her better than I, but wrote a book called “All Hands on Deck: Daddy’s Coming Home!” Where is this – where’s your – you’re Julia Maki’s sister? That’s great. What a wonderful contribution to the body of literature that helps describe what it means to family members, you know, who serve right alongside with us. Would you pass on to her how much, you know, we appreciate what that work did – (inaudible) – by the way, I’m not – I’m not trying to help sell the book, for the record, here. (Laughter.) I am telling you, though, that it’s that kind of insight into the challenges of being a military spouse and a mom of – with a deployed serviceman that, you know, that’s actually – it’s really encouraging. And I thank her for helping tell that story.

So couple of things, and then I’ll open it up. I’m only talking to give you time to figure out what you want to ask me, so I won’t do that for very much longer. Couple of things, though, that are pretty obvious that I do want to tell you about. One of them is we’ve got a transition going on in our military, and that’s pretty obvious to you. And the transition has a lot of aspects to it. We’re transitioning from a force, especially the ground component, which has been extraordinarily committed to – focused like a laser beam, really, on Iraq and Afghanistan and conducting deployments pretty much one year on, one year off. That tempo will slow, and the question I’m asking our leaders is, what are you going to do with the extra time? How do you restore, you know, the things that you’ve had to – had to put on the back burner, whether it’s professional military education, certain kinds of training, training management, command supply discipline, you know, all of those things.

Secondly, we’ve got a transition in terms of our fiscal condition, you know, bigger budgets to smaller. You know, I don’t know how much smaller. I know what we’re working with right now, and we’re continuing to work with the Congress of the United States to gain some clarity on that as we go into the future so we can provide predictability for you and your families, for the defense industrial base and for any other number of reasons.

And then we’re going to – you know, the Navy and the Marine Corps – well, the Navy and the Air Force, actually, have done a bit of resizing over the last decade or so, and you’re not going to do much more resizing. But the Army and the Marine Corps will over the next five years to seven years, and we could find ourselves – probably will – with maybe a hundred thousand fewer soldiers and Marines. And those young men and women will pass into civilian life, and we need to pass them properly into civilian life, and that’s a big transition.

So I’ve been out and about talking about veterans. You know, I’ve asked – I’ve asked – I spoke at Kansas State University, and I asked a very simple question: How will we think about the veterans of these 10 years, 10 years from now? Because if we don’t think about that image – and it’s not our job alone. We have some of the responsibility, those of us that wear the uniform, but so too does the rest of the nation to help shape that image so that we honor the service, so that we – and we allow them, these hundred thousand or so that will become veterans, we allow them opportunity but without painting – portraying them as victims. They’re not victims. These are men and women with enormous talents. And so we want to – we kind of – want to emphasize the positive of it while recognizing we’ve got some work to do on things like PTSD, moderate traumatic brain injury, and so forth.

So we got some real challenges coming up. Not the first time in our history, though, and my promise to you is that we’ll stay in touch with you to make sure we know what’s on your mind. I know you’ve got a great leadership team here in the Pacific Northwest, and we’ll stay in touch with them as we move forward, active, guard and reserve and the civilians that work with us.

So, you know, I’m here really to tell you two things. I hope you haven’t forgotten them already. You know, one is thanks, and the other is we’re going to be fine as long as we keep faith with each other. You know, Marine Corps hymn is – I hate to – I hate to admit this, but the Marine Corps hymn has the right phrase in it for our times: We have to go forward, do what’s right and keep our honor clean. And that’s straight out of the Marine Corps hymn, and it’s applicable to all of us.

So with that, let me now open the floor for a conversation with you, and I mean it when I say that I will answer any question you ask. I may not answer it to your satisfaction – (laughter) – but that’s not – that’s not the commitment I’m making. So who wants to ask the first question? Yes, sir.

Q: Chairman, sir, I just had a question about the Joint Force program 2020. And – oh, by the way, I’m – (name inaudible) – from the USS Michigan Blue Crew, and I had a question about the Joint Force 2020 program, what that means for us at the deck level both organizationally and operationally –

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, that’s a great question. So when I started talking about Joint Force – let me give you a – kind of a two-part answer, and go ahead and take your seat, unless you got a follow-on. OK. 2020 is the year that, in my time as chairman, we will build the joint force of 2020. It’s literally inevitable. Why? Because we’ll turn in four budgets, ’12-’17 – we measure our budgets in five-year increments, so ’12-’17, ’13-’18, ’14-’19 – I mean, ’15-’19, ’16-’20. [sic ‘15-‘20].

So on my watch, we will submit – if I’m – if I’m a chairman for four years – on my last year, we’ll turned in ’16-’20, the fiscal year ’16 to fiscal year ’20 [fiscal year ’15 to fiscal year ’20] budget. So one way or the other, if I do it either deliberately or I back into it, we’re going to build the Joint Force of 2020 on my watch. So that was kind of, you know, “a-ha” moment number one; I probably should take an interest in that.

The second thing is as we pulled it apart, the other reality is 80 percent of the Joint Force of 2020 exists right now, either physically exists, sitting at dockside, or will exist, already planned, in programs that, as you know, come online between now and 2020. Eighty percent I can’t really have much effect on. I can – I mean, I can accelerate programs and I can slow them, but I can’t make any fundamental changes to about 80 percent of the force.

So what that leaves you with – and the reason I went down that path with you – we’ll really change about – in the next seven years or so, we’ll really change about 20 percent. I think the – where you’ll see the changes are in the way we integrate some of these existing capabilities with emerging capabilities. The emerging capabilities I'll describe as three, notably: ISR, which has a completely different meaning today than it did 10 years ago, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; special operations, completely different meaning today than it did 10 years ago; and cyber, which didn’t exist 10 years ago as a focus area for our military.

In those three functional areas, you’ll see things come together that will have to be better integrated in order to make us a better force in 2020, and I think we’ll be a slightly smaller force in 2020. I don’t think it’ll be dramatically smaller. And mostly the reductions will come in the land component, if I were a betting man, and then we’ve got to figure out where that risk point is where we potentially could find ourselves too small.

But that’s really my job and the CNO’s [Chief of Naval Operations] job, Chief Staff of the Army, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chief of Staff of the Air Force. For you, I think it’s helping us figure that out and finding creative and innovative ways to use the resources available to us differently. Your generation will inherit the force with about a 20 percent difference than what you see today and be called upon to integrate all of that together in ways that make it more capable than it is today, because the world – our adversaries aren’t standing still, you know. They’re out there trying to compete with us, especially in those areas I mentioned. So I hope that helps.

The other thing is we got to – you got to help me figure out is what do the leaders of 2020 need to have that they don’t have today? I kind of know what we have today and a lot of what will be enduring, you know, the attributes: certainly integrity will be enduring, courage will be enduring, you know. There’s some attributes that are clearly – they’re just fundamental to our profession. But then there’s probably others that we might have to value more: innovation, adaptability, you know. I don’t know yet. I mean, I’m admitting to you that this thing is a work in progress. But there’s probably some attributes that we want to encourage differently than we do today, potentially. And you have to help us figure that out.

What else? Yeah. So far this first row is really killing it over here. Rusty, you got to step up. Oh, is there somebody over there? OK, I’ll be back to you.

Q: Sir, I’m – (name inaudible). My question is about Guantanamo Bay. There’s talk of moving the detainees to mainland USA and also military tribunals which are restarted, but are constantly held up. What are we doing in that – (inaudible)?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Wow, didn’t take long to get the high, hard one. (Laughter.) We would call that a brushback pitch if this were a baseball game. (Laughter.) Issues of detention have a policy component that exceeds, you know, our particular equities in the military.

What I mean by that is what we need, what the United States military needs, is the ability to capture and detain for intelligence purposes and then – I’m talking about if you’re at war – you have to capture, you have to be able to detain for a period to glean intelligence, and then for some long-term, enduring security threats, you have to be able to keep in detention.

We don’t care where that occurs, frankly, and – but there are people who really care where that occurs and how it occurs and how the different agencies of government apply their different legal authorities to do it. But that’s not a question that you’ll find the Joint Chiefs taking on, where should those enduring security threats be detained. You will hear us suggesting quite strongly that we absolutely have to have that ability.

We’re going through a little bit of that in Afghanistan now, actually, as you – and it happened in Iraq too. As you transition these responsibilities to your host nation – to the host nation that you’re supporting, these issues come up, and we just got to work through them.

Yeah, over on this side.

Q: I came back over here, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, there you are. OK.

Q: Hi, sir. I’m Petty Officer – (name inaudible) – I work at Commander Submarine Group 9. My question is you talked about the VA a little bit. Is there any plans on actions to further benefit the VAs? I got VAs coming back, and it takes Washington state 396 days on average for the VA claims to go through. And I’m sorry, sir, but that – it just is not satisfactory.

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, no, no. And you don’t have to say you’re sorry. Nobody – there’s nobody I know in uniform at any grade that is satisfied with the – with the process that takes – 396 is not the worst that I’ve seen. And you know how – go ahead.

Q: That’s the average for Washington state.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, right. No, no – and it’s not unusual. In fact, I think potentially, if I’m right about this, the average nationwide is about 394, so you’re right at the average. And if that’s the average, it means there’s some that are probably even worse. Secretary Panetta and Secretary Shinseki meet quarterly, and in preparation for those meetings, I meet once or twice a quarter. And we have a task force that works with – among the Joint Staff, OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and the VA. And there are some things that are going to make a difference. But boy, it is – it’s just not moving as fast as it needs to move.

So what are the things that are – that are moving? Electronic records – you know, right now it’s still a paper process, which creates – you know, you potentially have to make copies of everything, and you need multiple copies, and you end up walking – you look pretty healthy, but if you were me, you’d be walking around with this many papers to try to describe your medical condition. Second thing is there is a shortage – in particular in mental health and behavioral health issues, there’s a shortage of professionals that can do the narrative necessary to inform the VA’s adjudication of disability. The third thing is how many physicals do we need? As you know, there’s an active physical, and then it passes to the VA, and there’s a second physical. And the reason is there’s a disparity often about, you know, how much disability.

And the truth is – this may be hard to believe; it probably is hard to believe – we – we’re going slow now because we really want to make sure we get it right. And I know, you know, you and nobody else that’s waiting 396 days wants to hear this. But if – but there have been cases – one of them occurred up at – apparently occurred; I don’t – haven’t seen the results of the investigation – but at Joint Base Lewis-McChord – anybody here from JBLM? – where we did speed it up, and then we realized, in the act of speeding it up, we had some assessments changed to the detriment of the soldier. And that’s the last damn thing you want to do.

So I would suggest to you that – first of all, I want you to know we got it. I mean, we got the message. Secondly, there’s two or three things that are – that have some real potential: single medical exam, electronic health records that are kind of fungible from the time you come in the service till the time you – you know, you’re through the VA, and a couple of other things that I think you will see change that system for the better. But we’re probably a year and a half, to tell you the truth, from, I think, making a difference that you will see and feel. It’s a – it’s a – it’s a very, very laborious system right now. But we kick it at risk, and the risk is that we don’t do what’s right, you know, for those trying to move through it. I promise you we’ll try to speed it up.

Q: Thank you, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Somebody else – somebody else over here had their – here we go.

Q: Afternoon, General. Lieutenant John Howard, weapons officer, USS Kentucky. I just wanted to share a couple of thoughts. I was talking with some of my sailors about retention and wanting to stay in. And you know, we’ve been upping the bonuses; we had a bunch of re-enlistments recently. But for some of the guys in the very technical ratings, particularly the nuclear ratings, it’s very hard for them to look at going to shore tour as something to be enjoyed, because there are very few locations that those individuals get to go to because of the nature of their work.

And so one of the thoughts that I had – and I was discussing it with some of the guys from the Kentucky here just a little bit ago, about the idea of offering a split shore tour such that you get one year out of rate – you know, going overseas, going to work in a joint position – and then doing two years in your in-rate job so you’re able to maintain those professional timelines and everything for their qualifications. But I think having that opportunity would do a lot for guys wanting to stay in, because it gets them the chance to go out and see other things, particularly for people here in the strategic force – you know, my missile techs. You know, they’ve got two, maybe three locations that they can go to for shore tour. And so I think things like that might do a lot for getting guys to stay in longer.

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I appreciate it. And this almost goes – it – this is a – let me connect the dot to the question you asked about Joint Force 2020. And what I said was we have to think about how we develop leaders a little differently. Army’s got some similar problems. And the – these challenges – they’re not problems; they’re really challenges. The problem would be if we didn’t have you, but we have you. The challenge is how do we allow you to continue to develop? And in especially those specialties that are – that are, as you say, kind of limited in terms of opportunity, we are looking and trying to push the personnel system to think differently.

And I – let me speak for a moment about when I was the Chief of Staff of the Army. We were looking at, you know, whether – I came in as an armor officer, and I knew exactly – I mean, I could have told you my career path almost to the month up through O-6 command. I think that’s somewhat similar to the surface warfare fleet, in a way. And I knew when I had to get joint [time], and I knew when I had time to, you know, do a nominative assignment or whatever it was.

I don’t think – well, I tell you for a fact, because we have three children who have served – that predictability is not as compelling to your generation as it was to mine. In my generation, that was actually – you know, there was a benefit to that predictability. I sense in your generation – and I’m not looking at you; I’m looking at you – (laughter) – I sense in your generation, you know, kind of a – maybe a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit that might be a little different than ours.

And I think the personnel community can figure it out, actually. I looked at, for example, lateral exit and re-entry. You know, you want to go work for Google for a couple of years? Maybe we can figure that out. I’m not committing to that, by the way. (Laughter.) But what I am saying is that – is that I think that – you know, we just talked about the link between DOD and VA; that was your question. I think our – the hardest system in any service to change, bar none, is the personnel system. And if there’s – I’m sure there are some personnel that’s in the room. It doesn’t make you evil; it makes the system almost immovable. It’s just really hard to change personnel policy. But I do think that, as part of this Joint Force 2020 initiative, and the – and by the way, each service has something similar to that: Army 2020, Navy 2020. I think we can push a bit to have personnel change that contributes to this thing in 2020 rather than impedes it.

So I’d say keep the fire burning. And my note-takers will bring that back with me, and I’ll – I meet with the chiefs about twice a week when they’re in town. And I’ll make this a matter of discussion and tell this – what’s your name? I’m going to tell the CNO – I had a – no, I’m kidding. (Laughter.)

All right, who else? Yes, please.

Q: Good afternoon. Major (inaudible), Marine Corps Security Force Battalion.

GEN. DEMPSEY: He doesn’t need that microphone, man. (Laughter.)

Q: Sir, I wanted to express concern and then hopefully ask for a response. There’s two areas that – I’ve experienced it, as has my family – where I think that service members and their families are being exploited by corporations for shareholder profit. And that’s privatized housing; and then also I think the DTS [Defense Travel Service] travel system, where we as the Department of Defense are paying full price for tickets, and they’re using us to fill seats on – either legs, or on flights that are – aren’t otherwise being billed, so they have made money off us.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Now, I’m not looking at my wife right now, but I guarantee you she’s nodding her head in agreement. (Laughter.) (Chuckles.) No, that – we have – we have experienced challenges in both cases. Interestingly, though, in the privatized housing – privatized housing, by the way, is an idea that those of us who lived in the previous manner, where we – there was no privatized housing – we were all actually supportive of it. It’s making sure that the individual contractors who provide that service are – have common standards. That’s been a little bit of a challenge. But I mean, I’m telling you, we go some places – Fort Riley, Kansas, where we were two days ago – and they are – they had just the opposite view of privatized housing. I mean, they’re absolutely enthusiastic about it because at that particular location, the contractor has worked it out in ways that are not only seen as not exploitive but rather are seen as working for the benefit of, in that case, soldiers and families.

So we got to work and continue to work. Each service has an installation management command. I – I’m not going to suggest to you that your installation management commander is sitting here in the front row. But – and these are tough jobs, by the way. (Chuckles.) God bless you. (Laughter.) I’m there for you. But I’m sure he’s writing this down and will find out what he can about your concern. But I will tell you, we got to keep an eye on it, because you know, as the economy changes for us, so too does it change for those who support us. And we just have to monitor it. But I will tell you, there’s as many people around the country experiencing positive aspects of privatized housing. So we don’t want to throw it all out the window on the basis of those that may not be supporting it.

On that issue of travel, it – the – I thought it was just growing pains, but it hasn’t gotten much better, to – in my view. And I don’t have to worry much about it anymore. I mean, if you’re wondering what’s the best thing about being chairman, maybe that was it. But again, my staff is taking notes here. And we will go back and try to determine, with the help of your chain of command, whether you’re experiencing something uniquely here or whether this is a systemic problem. I – there are some aspects of it that I’m certain are systemic.

I don’t know if it’s intended to exploit as opposed to – there’s this – always this tension between effectiveness and efficiency. And I suspect what we’re going to see, by the way, as the budget issues get a little heavier – I think you’re going to see more changes that, unless we articulate them – the reasoning of them to you better, you may see as being exploitive when actually it could be simply a business imperative. But I don’t know where you are at this particular point in time with the support system you have. But I appreciate you bringing it up.

What else? Yeah, please.

Q: Mr. Chairman, sir, MM1 Martin, I’m a machinist’s mate off the USS Jackson, Blue Crew. My issue is with manning. Lately we’ve been suffering some severe setbacks in that department. And the attempts to get that fixed across the board have been ongoing at all levels, from what we’ve seen at our level. And it just doesn’t seem to be improving as much as it should. A lot of that has been caused by poor decision-making, obviously, in a lot of cases. But one of the things that seems to have been a major cause of that has been quality control of the personnel actually arriving on the submarines. And we have done what we’ve could to correct that at our level, but it doesn’t seem to have improved much.

And I’ve been in the Navy for quite a while, so I’ve seen the changes from when I came in and till now. And I have talked to many people about the training processes that have changed over the years. And one of the most significant issues has been a lack of practical experience or practical training, and more computer-based and not actually operating any of the equipment or even seeing any of the equipment until they get to the submarine. So then we attempt to do what we can, and many of the individuals turn out to be OK.

For example, we’ve had over 75 percent attrition of our junior personnel in my division within the last five years, before I got there and after I got there. And we are currently sitting at nine people, including our chief, in a division that’s supposed to have 15. And we’ve been – had no more than 11 people, I believe it was, for the last couple years because of constant attrition. The other crew has actually helped us out, and we’ve helped them out. And it’s been – all the boats in the area are basically sending their young individuals or even more senior individuals out to sea on other boats, just to make it possible for us to get to sea.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Well, I – you can see how I’m dressed, right? So I stray into this question at great peril. (Laughter.) I can – but I can tell you that if I were in an Army audience, I’d have some of the same interventions because of the pace at which we have been deploying the force. It’s slowing down now; I think the average for an Army brigade combat team is probably one year deployed – and we’re trying to get to nine months, but it’s still about one year deployed to about 27 months or so back. But it wasn’t too long ago – fact, it was three years ago – we were at one to one.

And in that environment, just what you said happens, because – there’s 19,000, by the way – 19,000 – this is back to the Interim [sic Integrated] Disability Evaluation System question – there’s 19,000 soldiers, active soldiers, in the Army that are nondeployable because of the cumulative effects of repeated deployments. I’m sure the Marines have a similar ratio. And I’m not pushing them through IDES because the IDES system is so tough. So I – you – and you can’t get another one until you get one out of the way, you know, because there is an end-strength issue.

I think – my sense is – and CNO is alert – is alert to this. My sense is that the pace of the Navy is actually quickening a bit. I know it is for the Stennis. And so – when I go back and I’ll – you know, the commander of Sub Group Nine is actually sitting up here – but when I go back to – when I go back and chat with the CNO – you know, and I don’t go back and say, you know – I go back, and we have really good conversations about what pressures the force is feeling. And we don’t – and we’re not defensive about it. I mean, we really do try to figure it out. And I know that the CNO – cuz we’ve talked about it – he’s, you know, the – the Gulf has – because of some of the potential issues in the Gulf, we’ve flown – we’ve flowed about as much of the force as we can, while meeting the other demands elsewhere for the other combatant commanders. And it has caused extended deployments.

Now he, he gets that. And we’re trying to see if we can look a little deeper, bring a little more predictability based on – you know – based on the threat and how we see the threat. This threat is not constant; it kind of waxes and wanes. So I’ll carry it back, as I’m sure that the admiral will here, but I’m not surprised to hear that there’s – you know, we’ve been asking so much of the force, all services – Air Force, you know, if there – anybody here an Air Force pilot? I mean, we’re – you know, we are – we are more forward-deployed than we have been in a long time. I think what you’re probably feeling is that as far as the – you know, the quality control, if – you’re a chief, right?

Q: No.

GEN. DEMPSEY: What are you?

Q: I’m a E-6.

GEN. DEMPSEY: All right, but you’re a noncommissioned officer?

Q: Yes, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, you haven’t gone from – I know E-6 to E-7 is such a big deal in your – in your service. But you are a noncommissioned officer. I’d actually be more worried if you weren’t complaining about the quality of the kids you’re getting, because I – you know, when I was a commander of the Training and Doctrine Command, and I’d go talk to the drill sergeants at places like Fort Jackson, South Carolina, they would wear me out about who we’re bringing in and why aren’t we holding them to a higher standard – why aren’t we doing more drill and ceremonies, for God’s sakes, you know? You have a better chance to fix that than I do, to be honest with you. You really do. And I – by the way, by your passion, I think I can probably count on you to do that.

I wouldn’t fight too much against the move to virtual environments for training than physical. I think we can make the virtual environment – not exclusively, you’re never going to have – I can tell by the way you asked the question, you’ll never be satisfied with this answer – but I think virtual and, you know – the quality of virtual environments and high-definition simulations, gaming and modeling is so impressive now, that it is sometimes difficult, except for the sweat that comes off your brow when you’re doing it for real, it’s pretty darn difficult to tell the difference. And if – unless we embrace it to the proper extent, never to the exclusion of hands-on, but unless we embrace it, we’re going to price ourselves right out of the game, because the budget pressures are real and are likely to last another 10 years. And I think that some of the way we can mitigate that pressure is by finding innovative ways to train, especially a generation who’s far more comfortable in that than I was.

So I don’t know if that helps, but I appreciate the message.

Yeah.

Q: What we need for all the services is an opportunity or a – some help with the young service men, regardless of what service they are, and someone they can talk to. As you know, we have a high suicide ideation rate, we have – we’re battling suicide. At our level, what we really need for these guys and gals is someone they can talk to and confide in. That’s where we need your help, sir. We need – we need for all the services to have the same program, and be able to take advantage of each other’s programs. And right now, it’s kind of like a union thing, and we need that broken, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, well – you know, it’s funny. This is why I make these trips. You know, when I get into the room with the Chief of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, we actually have a pretty tight understanding and a pretty common – not a pretty common, a very common view of how to – how we need to get after this thing.

It’s something that – if you’re talking about suicide and PTSD and –

Q: The whole suicide ideation – the whole gamut.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. It’s – I would suggest to you that the programs are more similar than they’re different. Most of them are built on this thing called Comprehensive Fitness. There’s a Total Force Fitness initiative at the Joint Staff, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, Comprehensive Airman Fitness – what do you call yours? There’s a name for it though.

But here’s the point – (laughter) – yeah. No, it’s – by the way, I take the point completely. I will tell you this. To be honest with you, if you want to know what it’s like to be the chairman, the days that are the most challenging is when you walk into this meeting with the other service chiefs and you say, hey, listen fellas. I really think we ought to all do this the same way. You can imagine how well that goes over. (laughter) You know, there’s not – there’s not a lot of love on doing everything exactly the same way. And by the way – I have to tell you, now that I’ve been the chairman for about a year, I actually think, in terms of service cultures, it helps me a lot that I have four different men – it happens to be now, but at some point, I’m sure it’ll be men and women – four different men with four different views, because it’s the diversity of thinking that actually helps me figure out what right looks like.

So I’m not a fan, by the way, of – you know – one service or any of that. But your point on some of these – some of these programs, like the medical communities – the medical communities, I – I’m a cancer survivor, by the way. And I’m a cancer survivor thanks to Navy medicine. I was – I had throat cancer, and I was treated at Portsmouth Naval. And so when I came back up and there was this big argument about Bethesda, Walter Reed, Bethesda, Walter Reed, Bethesda – I said, you know what? I think my throat is in the same place as yours, my lungs are pretty much in the same location, I think, as yours. And you know, the rest of my physiology is probably pretty similar to yours. And we got through that. It took a lot of work. But we got through it.

To your point about suicide: I’m glad you brought it up, because I do want to make this appeal. You say that we need somebody to talk to. You know, I think it’s each other. Look, what I can do, what we can do as senior leaders, is lower the stigma. You know what I mean? We’ve got to make it OK for you to tell us something just isn’t going right in your life, and you really could use some help with it. You know, if a – if a sailor walked up to you, and said, hey, I can’t do enough pushups to pass the fitness test, you’d right away go get somebody to help coach and teach and mentor him through the – you know – to get pushups to the point where you could do them. We don’t have that same – that same skill set, really, when it comes to issues related to mental health.

But I don’t – so we can do a certain amount of this from the top down, you know, common programs, common commitment, building life skills from the moment you walk in the Navy until the moment you leave – we can do all that. I have to say, though, it has to be met from the bottom up, with a commitment to the man or woman you’re sitting next to, that if he or she sees something that doesn’t look right, that it’s OK to – you know, to get help. And first of all, it’s OK to get help personally. Secondly, it’s OK if you have a shipmate or a battle buddy, you know, that – or a wingman – that you worry about, to tell somebody you’re worried about it. And we’re not there yet on that – on that regard.

And then there are some policy things too, where certain questionnaires for security clearances kind of disincentivize that kind of, you know, intellectual honesty. So I – you know, thanks for bringing it up, and I look forward to you answering his question.

What else? Yeah.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Please.

Q: (Inaudible) of the USS Maine – I know recently there was some talk of changing our retirement system. Is our retirement system still on the block for change, or do we intend to leave it as is?

GEN. DEMPSEY: The answer to that is we intend to leave it as it is for those currently serving, but we’ve been directed, actually – I’m pretty sure, by Congress – to form a commission. I’m not sure about if it’s – if it’s been directed by Congress. We, actually, though, would like to have a commission to take a look at retirement future, while grandfathering those currently serving.

So I think – I think you’ll see retirement change once we figure it out, for those who enter after that point, but I don’t think – in fact, while I’m chairman, I will never agree to a program that changes your retirement right now. It doesn’t mean I can’t be overridden, but I will never agree to – I will never – I would never advocate or recommend a change to your retirement. And Secretary Panetta has said the same thing. So I think that’s fine.

But by the way, just on manpower costs – we really do have to find a way to make ourselves more affordable. And there are some places we can do that without making your lives more difficult. And we’ll have to get after that. Because if you reach a point where infrastructure, modernization, operations, maintenance training and manpower get out of balance, and then you have a force that’s either too large and not well-trained, or too large, not well-trained and not modern. And so we’ve really got some – we’ve really got some work to do to balance it. But manpower has to be affected over time, because it’s just continuing to climb in ways that by about 2017, we could actually break it.

I had a – yeah, the young lady in the back, the family member. Yeah, please.

Q: Hi, it’s a two-pronged question. My first question is about the MyCAA program, definitely an outstanding program that we have that’s been created. It’s helped a lot of spouses as well. But when it first came out, it allowed more spouses to take advantage of it, more higher-ranking spouses, and that’s been taken away. Understanding funding the way it is today, and whatever, kind of help the junior spouses out, but I also think that they should be afforded the opportunity to continue their education, because when you’re getting to that level, it – the education system right now, the tuition is outpacing what our service members can afford to send these graduate degrees, these doctorate degrees that they now are going to need, especially for some of these professions. So definitely, that would help a lot of our spouses in that situation, instead of going into higher debt with student loans and such, because a lot of it is now income-based, so they will be gathering a lot of student loans.

My second question would be, also, in order to help some of these spouses out, when they do get this education – example, psychology – and if you’re going to go ahead, you need your internships, and we need better places to allow these spouses to go ahead and get these hours for their licensing, and what better place to provide that training than on bases? Right now, I can give kudos to Madigan, because they do take a lot of interns there, but again, that is a drive over to Tacoma. Here in the peninsula, we are pretty much stuck to what we have, and not a lot of places.

The DOD component does only take certain degrees that are APA-accredited, which is the highest form of accreditation, but I think, also, the DOD needs to look at all the outstanding colleges and universities out there that do provide a great degree, whatever that subject is, and allow our spouses and/or veterans to go ahead and get some of that internship and training within some of these bases. So that way, it is beneficial to the family, staying close to the base, and you’re going to be getting a better product, because you know what you’re being trained for, and hopefully, they’ll return back to that facility.

GEN. DEMPSEY: OK. Yeah, I’m aware of the pressure on that program for spouses continuing higher education. I haven’t gotten an update on it recently, have you?

MRS. DEMPSEY: (Off mic.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: Here you go, up here (pointing to lectern).

MRS. DEMPSEY: When they first started MyCAA – and it was like a blank check for stuff, and those of us in senior positions were like, what in God’s name are they doing? We knew right from the start, there was no way they were going to be able to continue to fund that for all spouses. The intent of it was that for – you know – cost for licensure, for – you know, not for your four-year college education – that’s what it was intended for. And so when they put the brakes on it, they put the brakes on because they couldn’t – they had so many applications and stuff in, like, the first week, that they were totally overwhelmed. So then they pulled back, and it’s more now for, you know, minor things, because, you know, in one case, you can use the G.I. Bill; if your spouse hasn’t used that, you know, there’s that option. And so at this point I – I’m not sure if they’re planning to enhance it. My thought would be probably no with, you know, the upcoming budget constraints, that they’ll keep it just for helping to get license – licensing and whatnot.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Would you mention as well – now, that’s not insignificant, though, that – you know, the assistance with licensing and credentialing – and would you mention about the effort to gets states to agree to accept – because it’s kind of like your second point, how do you get states to accept credentialing as you get moved around from Washington to Virginia to San Diego?

MRS. DEMPSEY: Yeah. So “Joining Forces” that was started a year and a half ago by Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, within the last nine months – it started and then it really got off to a slow start. The idea was that communities would support military families in various ways. In the last nine months, some of the things that they’ve accomplished really, really help both military families, but especially military spouses, in that we’re now up to 26 states that have signed on to do some kind of license reciprocity, portability for spouses, so that – and they’re not all the same, it’s not cookie-cutter, because states have state rights to do what they want. But for instance, they may waive that fee to get a license. They may let you work while you’re getting the license. You may – in some cases, they’ll just say, hey, you’ve got a license from Arizona and you just moved to Washington; you’re OK. It depends, you know, what the state is. But we’re up to 26 of them.

There’s also the MSEP, the Military Spouse Employment Program, where they’ve had Fortune 500 companies sign on to hire military spouses and veterans. They’re doing Educate the Educators, where they’ve gone around to colleges and asked that when you’re taking education courses to become a teacher, that you’re made aware of the challenges of military kids, if they’re in your schools. They’ve gone to medical schools, nursing schools, to have them all trained in knowing about PTSD and TBI. So if you’re working in an emergency room some place and someone comes in, you might want to ask, have you been deployed, because maybe there’s something there that, you know, they haven’t – you know, up until this point. So there’s a lot of different programs within joining forces that does it, but the licensure is one that, like I said, we’re up to 26 states and we’re still working.

GEN. DEMPSEY: And to your question about the interns and whether they can be used at military treatment facilities, you know, kind of generally, I’ll pass that one to the installation commander here.

Yes.

Q: I’ve got a question that focused more on Boomer guys. I was born and raised, as far as my career goes, on a fast attack. I got to see deployments in all these great places in the world, got married, went to a Boomer. It was perfect; what my wife wanted. (Laughter.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: I can’t help you. (Laughter.)

Q: Then we said, you know, I was able to get all the traveling out of my system, but I’ve seen a lot of new sailors and I manage all these guys and I want to make sure that they have great careers, that they have longevity. I see a lot of these sailors, they come to me straight to a boomer, and that’s fine. But if they’ve lived in Bremerton, there’s this chance that they may never actually see anything but Bangor, Washington in their time in the Navy, whether it’s long or short.

What I do notice is that a six-month deployment on a fast attack, you may see five or six different ports – sometimes the same ones over and over again, but it’s still a good break. You know, a whole year, ideally, possibly, you will have two/three-month periods where a Boomer won’t see anything. And I understand there’s force protection requirements that affect our ability to pull in anywhere in the world, but now we don’t have San Diego, we don’t have Hawaii. And I’m a mechanic. I’ve learned to watch what a relief valve would do before it busts. And these guys, everyone’s got a relief valve. Is there a chance in the future that we may have the ability to increase the security at these – at least at the domestic locations where we can pull in so that these guys can get off the boat, see some fresh air, you know, get that morale back up, get a sea story or two, you know, and then, you know, get back to port and say, you know what? I like this stuff.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.

Q: Now, it’s San Diego, it’s Hawaii, yeah, sure. But I got to see some things and then –

GEN. DEMPSEY: I got the message, man. (Laughter.) And by the way, for the record, you can’t see fresh air, that’s – unless you live in New York. Then you can see it. (Laughter.) Yeah.

And by the way, I was on the Maine today, and it has two periscopes. The captain can use one and you can use one. (Laughter.) Do we have two on the Alabama?

Q: No, I don’t.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Only got one on the Alabama, huh? No, I’m not making light of it. Look, it’s a tough life. I’m telling you. You know, I’m a little claustrophobic, you know, in the Lincoln Tunnel, let alone in the – you know, I saw where some of you sleep in between those – you know, those orange tubes on the Maine.

Q: That’s why, sir, we can’t hold it anywhere, because those orange tubes.

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, no, no, I know that. Yeah. So actually, I had – that was one of the conversations I had on the Maine today with your leaders, is how – you know, how fungible, how portable is your skill sets and how do you keep developing someone. Do people generally stay in one particular community or do you cross over?

I can’t answer your question right now, but I – what I – what I can tell you is I’m really interested in the development of sailors, airmen, Marines and soldiers and how, over time, you know, we can continue to develop you, accounting for some of the – in your case, the really unique security conditions in which you serve. But I will tell you, my only answer to you right now is thanks for what you do. The country has no idea, and I’m not sure you’d want them to, to be honest, any more than they know that you’re out there. And I’m glad you’re out there, but I’ll – you know, I’m sure your senior leaders here are interested in that as well. And that is a pressure that’s unique, in many ways, to your particular rating. So thanks for doing it, and you’ve got my interests.

But I would say, ask the captain to peek out every once in a while. How hard could that be? (Laughter.) You know, in fact, maybe that should be like a standard. What do you think – like, you kind of rotate the crew up to look out every once in a while?

Q: That could be some professional development.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, yeah, professional development, get on the bridge, look through the periscope, that’s good, get back to work. (Laughter.) Yeah, periscope liberty. There it is. We’ve got a name for it. (Laughter.) Just don’t open any windows for God’s sakes. (Laughter.)

What else?

Q: I’ve got a question about our commissioning program. In the Navy we have the Seaman to Admiral Program, which is like – this year is, like, probably around eight for the piloting – for the flight option. Air Force also has a commissioning program in the enlisted ranks. I have five years of service. And when it comes down to the ranking process, I’m ranking against other senior petty officers, great men and women who have proven themselves for years and years, and then there’s a ROTC student who comes in from high school and gets more additional government funding. I just feel that there should be an emphasis on, instead of buying the officer – I don’t mean to insult you, sir, or any other officer – (laughter) – instead of buying the officer, maybe train the officer from the enlisted ranks who do inspire to be something bigger than what they are.

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s a great question. And I have, actually, a great answer. I like this answer, so pay attention. (Laughter.) There is – there’s three ways we get – we grow officers, and they are, generally speaking, the military academies, ROTC as you described it, and then direct commission or through OCS or some other format. Again, back to my Army experience, what you really want as a service is you want the military academy to provide – in your case the Naval Academy – about 20 percent. You’d like ROTC to kind of provide another 60 percent or so, and then OCS about 20 [percent]. What happened to the Army in the last – I can’t speak to your service, but what happened to the Army in the last 10 years is, it takes four years to get through ROTC. We needed officers sooner, we turned the dial on OCS and we skewed it and we were producing – 40 percent of the officer corps in some years groups were coming through the program you’re talking about.

Now, you would say, great. The problem is, he would say, hey, wait a minute, you’re stealing my seed corn for the future noncommissioned officer corps of, in my case, the United States Army, and we were. The other thing that happens is, if you commission – how many years you’ve got in?

Q: Five years.

GEN. DEMPSEY: OK. If you commission at five, how many years are you – am I guaranteeing you’ll stay with me? Fifteen. When I get a kid out of West Point or ROTC, I’ve got them for 20. So what was happening was, we were kind of aging the force. You’re not – you know, five years and you’re probably, what, how old are you, 26?

Q: Twenty-three, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, my God, 23. (Laughter.) So I’m not accusing you of aging the force, but what I am – what I am saying is, this is a really delicate balance among the service academies, ROTC and OCS that – so that we get the officer corps shaped the way we want it and we have a predictable longevity and attrition rate and we’re able to grow the people that really run our services, which are the noncommissioned officers. So I don’t know where the Navy is in that balance, but my guess is what you’re sensing is some of that effort to balance it out. And I have no doubt you could be an admiral someday.

OK. Is that it? All right, well, look – who’s waving? Hi Joe, my [executive officer]. First of all, let me thank the chain of command here at Bangor and the other places I’ve visited today. It’s been a really terrific visit. You know, I’ve been involved in some of the decisions that deploy you – all of you, whatever part of this great enterprise you serve. And you know, and you do that and you’re wondering, what am I really asking them to do? What’s the conditions like? You know, back to the guy who wants the windows in the submarine. (Soft laughter.) I mean, I don’t – it’s important for me to come here and hear what you have to say, you know, meet you, you know, kind of get a feel for what’s on your mind and also, as I’ve said, importantly for Deanie and I to come here and just say thanks. And so on behalf of – I represent, you know, when you count up Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, I kind of stole the Coast Guard from Homeland Security from time to time, and family members, you know, it’s – I get to represent maybe about 3 million people, and it’s a – it’s an unbelievable honor. And I’m 38 years in the service. I can kind of count down the number of days that I’ll get to put on the uniform. So I look at myself in the mirror every day and I say, how the hell did that happen? But I get over that, you know, when I see the four stars. And then I – but I do say to myself, honestly, you know, don’t forget what you’re doing. And what I’m doing is representing you. And then don’t forget that I’m not going to be able to do it forever. And so in a way that you haven’t potentially grasped yet, the honor of serving our country at a time like this and representing you is really something. And I just want you to know that from me.

And you know, people say, boy, it must be – really be a hard job. It is. It’s awful, frankly. But when would you – here’s a question I’d pose to you as you kind of make your own decisions, by the way. When would you want to serve your country? What it’s kind of on autopilot and it doesn’t really make much difference whether you bring your A game or not, or when it really matters? And that’s – by the way, for those of you that serve, your family members, civilians who support it, I think you’d probably tell me that you’d like to serve when it really matters. If that’s the case, you’ve arrived. It really matters.

Thanks so much for what you do. God bless you. (Applause.)

(END)