GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Thanks very much. I am indeed delighted – honored to be here, to be part of the Landon lecture series. My wife joins me – we’re in the midst of travel across the country. I’ve been trying to get here for some time, actually, and this year we finally were able to accomplish the task. I come here, just by coincidence, on the day that I begin my second year as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I became the chairman one year ago today, and am honored to fill that position at this time in our nation’s history and to represent more than 2 million men and women in uniform, and probably twice that when you count their families, and some of those great Americans are here today – and let’s ask you all to stand up one more time – if you’re here in uniform, stand up so the rest of us can give you a round of applause.
Thanks. For those of you currently serving, duty first – (cheers) – let’s try that again. For those of you currently serving, duty first. (Cheers.) There you go. I was with the Big Red One in Afghanistan last month. For those of you that are serving elsewhere, thanks for that as well, and for – I mean, what you’ve got framed here in this audience today is probably the senior – I was going to say oldest, but I didn’t like the way that was going to sound – serving active duty officer. I’m not, actually – there’s a handful, but only a handful that are more – that are older than me, but 38 years of service, and I’m guessing we’ve got a couple of freshman cadets here. My promise to you is, we will leave something for you to do. (Laughter.)
So President Schulz, Jackie Hartman, Ed Seaton, staff and faculty, thanks for inviting me here, and thanks for what you do. The other reason I’m glad to be here on the one-year anniversary is that this is – I’m going to talk a little bit about the relationship of the country to its men and women in uniform, and I can’t think of anything where that relationship is so powerful than right here in Manhattan, Kansas, between – and including the relationship between Kansas State University and the United States Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, whether it’s health of the force connections, whether it’s unmanned aerial systems, whether it’s education in general, I really – I really appreciate what this community and this university do for those who serve.
I’m mindful of the legacy of Alf Landon, by the way. As you know, among those 160 speakers who have been here with you and part of the series, there have been seven presidents, several of my predecessors. In 1966, Alf Landon presented the first of those lectures, or what would become those lectures, and it was titled, “new challenges of international relations.” Well, I would venture to say that we too serve in an era in our history where we have our fair share of new challenges in international relations. I’ll mention a few of them, not by way of being able to go into any detail about them – I could certainly address some of them in the Q-and-A session, but by way of showing you how these security challenges will bridge to the conversation I want to have with you about America’s relationship with men and women in uniform.
I took – I describe one of these new international relations challenges as a security paradox. We live in an era where we’re at an evolutionary low in violence. I mean, there are people who are studying this at the – at colleges and universities around the country, and they’ve concluded that we are literally at an evolutionary low in violence. State-on-state conflict is far less likely than it has been in the past. The problem is that other kinds of conflict, other kinds of violence are exponentially more likely as technology spreads, as the information age allows organizations and individuals, middleweight nations, if you will, to have capabilities that heretofore were the purview of major nation-states. So it’s a paradox in some way, the paradox being, nation-on-nation, state-on-state – large conflict is less likely. Not completely unlikely, but less likely; but the chance of violence and those using violence for ideological and other purposes is exponentially greater.
The Arab Spring and what it will bring – the Arab Spring, as many of you have seen and probably are studying, will introduce a period of instability – is introducing a period of instability. I think that in the long run it has a very good chance of producing stability, but getting from here to there will be a challenge for not only the United States, but the region, and I would venture to say, the globe. Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which will have to be considered in any strategy that both we and our partners in the Middle East take upon ourselves in the future. Shifting trends – global trends, really, that are pulling our attention into the Pacific. Economic, demographic and military trends, and as you know, our new defense strategy seeks to address those shifting global trends.
Cybersecurity. Cyber is the new domain, if you will. Land domain, air domain, maritime domain, cyber domain, and we have both incredible opportunities in cyber and we also have some significant vulnerabilities in cyber. And a new fiscal environment. If anybody in the room thinks that my defense budget is going to go up in the next several years, please show me your hand – (laughter) – I’d like to know what bar and grill you happen to frequent. I know that Aggieville is probably just about to open, and I’d send you back if I see your hand. Or maybe you’ve been having too many of those maple bacon donuts that I’ve heard so much about. Look, we are living in a new fiscal environment, and we – those of us who serve, and the department in which I serve will have to be part of helping the nation solve it, and we’re hard at that and I’d be happy to talk to you about that if you’re interested.
I’m a fan of – besides of poetry, I like to dabble in a lot of different academic areas, mostly to keep my mind sharp and make sure that we’re not missing some way to articulate the challenges in front of us and try to seek some of those solutions. I read recently about Danish physicist Per Bak and his sandpile theory. Sandpile theory – now this guy must have, you know, had much to do – I hope nobody is around here doing it exactly this way, but he built sandpiles a grain at a time until they collapsed, and he did this over a period of time to try to determine if there was a way to predict when the sandpile would collapse, and what he concluded is that what happens internal to the sandpile is more important than what happens to it externally, and he described that as unmappable dynamism. I think we live in a period where we’re going to prove to ourselves that Per Bak had it about right. Very uncertain times.
It reminds me, though, as well, that we’re not the first ones to confront many of these challenges and these uncertainties and these huge tectonic shifts. One of my predecessors as army chief of staff penned this memorandum to his subordinates in August of 1945: “In the next year, we’ll cut the military in half. We’ll retool the defense industrial base from a wartime footing to a peacetime footing, and we must account for increasing U.S. interests in the Pacific. Signed, George C. Marshall.” So maybe, after all, we’re not facing anything entirely new. They do say, if you want a new idea, read an old book. So you better start reading.
Look, we can explore any or all of those during the Q-and-A, but in the next few minutes, I’d like to explore a different kind of challenging relationship, and that is the relationship of America with those in the military. You know, relationships are always a little challenging. I was – in the introduction you heard that I served during operation Desert Storm in 1991. And I remember – that was the days before texting and Skyping and Facebooking and FaceTiming and, you know, words that exist today that didn’t exist, to tell you the truth, in 1991. We sent – we sent letters back and forth to each other, and they would pass, and you know, you’d be answering questions from two letters ago and it just – it really was pretty challenging, actually. We did it, but it was challenging, and I remember this one particular letter where I got – that I got from Deanie, and in it, it said, you know, I’m so miserable without you. It’s almost as though you’re actually right here with me. (Laughs.) And I thought – I thought to myself, boy I hope she got that sentence structure wrong, because otherwise I’m in big trouble when I come back – come back home. But relationships are challenging. You know, you’ve seen it inside your own families. Externally we have relationships around the world. But I’m suggesting to you that the relationship of America and its men and women in uniform is good, could be better, could be a little deeper. And we can’t take it for granted and so I want to talk about it.
You know, we are – I grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, 1952, just after that group of men, mostly in those days, had come back from World War II. And so I saw how their image – the image of the veteran of World War II was shaped not just by them but by the society into which they were absorbed. I saw the same thing after Korea somewhat. I saw the same thing after Vietnam. I saw the same thing after Desert Storm.
And what I’m suggesting to you is we ought to be thinking about now, what is the image, what is the veteran that you, the American people – many of you are or will be veterans. And it’s got to be a two-way street in answering that question. The veterans themselves can’t answer it, nor can you answer it by yourselves. And we need to get after that.
Now, some of you might know that some of the older folks in the audience – who will not admit that – but some of you might know that in this month 35 years ago, October of 1977, my favorite rock band, back to the music connection, my favorite rock band, The Who, recorded what I think is potentially one of the best rock songs of all times, called “Who Are You.”
If you remember the story, and some of you may, Peter Townshend, the lead guitarist and vocalist, was going through this inner struggle about who he was because he says, in one of the lyrics: I must have lost my direction because I ended up a superstar. And he ended up having some significant problems in his life that he was trying to capture in that song, “Who Are You.”
More of you will know the song, because it’s also the theme song of crime scene investigators, the “CSI” series, that’s probably where you really know it. But listen to the lyrics sometime. And I would suggest to you that you might ask: Who are you? You really ought to know because, as I said, you will define – those of you in uniform and those of you not in uniform – you will define today’s veterans as previous generations have defined veterans in their time.
Now, at one level, we’re who we’ve always been – America’s sons and daughters from all across the country from all walks of life from myriad backgrounds. As I mentioned, over 2 million active Guard and Reserve, proud to wear the cloth of the nation, proud to represent it and to go wherever and do whatever we need to do to serve in peace and in war. That’s enduring.
At another level, there are some things that are different about our service now, things that you really ought to know about. We’re an all-volunteer force. It rolls off the tongue, but what does it really mean? We’re an all-volunteer force. Some of you may know that only one in four of America’s young men and women can pass the entrance requirements to even serve in the military. That’s got to mean something to the nation.
We’re mostly married now. That wasn’t the case when I came into service in 1974. As of just a few months ago we now are serving in the longest conflict in our nation’s history. We’ve asked a significant contribution – probably the most significant contribution over time of our reserve component than we have in our history. Add all those things together and add to it that most of us now have served repetitive tours in combat – that is to say a year in and a year out for the active component, a year in and three years or so out for the Reserve component.
There’s also some things you ought to know about conflict today that are different. For one thing, it’s asymmetric. It – there is this constant – and there’s always been some asymmetry in warfare, but it’s far more prevalent today that our adversaries will seek and find ways to offset our advantages and leverage some of theirs – asymmetric. So you have to constantly be adapting to what’s going on around you.
Second things it’s persistent. There’s no: Let’s go to the rear and take a break. When you’re in it, you’re in it and it’s part of your life. It’s part of your daily life. It’s a moment-to-moment – think about a young man or woman on patrol in parts of Afghanistan today where the IED – the pressure plate underground buried mine is a prevalent form of warfare. And the incredible courage on the one hand, but the incredible anxiety on the other, of not knowing whether your next step could potentially be your last. It’s persistent.
It’s nonlinear. It’s everywhere. There is no place to go to find sanctuary. It’s decentralized. And what I mean by that is a young captain might have more responsibility, more authority, more capability at his disposal than a colonel did in previous conflicts. Or a lieutenant colonel battalion commander will have more capability, authority and responsibility than I had as a division commander in Baghdad in 2003.
And here’s an important one – we take our families to war with us. Now, of course I don’t mean that literally, but I mean it absolutely, figuratively, and I mean it emotionally. It’s absolutely not uncommon – or to avoid the double negative – it is absolutely common that a young man or woman will be Skyping or texting or emailing or FaceTiming and say: Hey look, I got to go now; I got to go back on patrol. I’ll call you when I get back.
Happens every day all the time everywhere and that puts a different kind of emotional pressure – on both sides, by the way. Now look, that’s just the reality of the conflict in which we find ourselves. But when you add it all together, I think it’s important for you to know who we are. The question is who are you in all of that?
So what does that require of those who serve, many of whom are sitting in this audience today? Well, courage, but that’s not a new requirement really is it? I do want to tell you about one particular airman I met actually – Air National Guard – Master Sergeant Roger Sparks, Alaska Air Guard. And he’s a parajumper.
Parajumpers are these fellows and gals who lower themselves out of usually Black Hawk helicopters on a cable – on a wire rope to rescue someone. Coast Guard does it at sea; this guy was happening to do it in Afghanistan on the side of the Hindu Kush with the 10th Mountain Division. And on a particular day, on a particularly difficult piece of terrain, he pulled 12 soldiers off the side of a cliff fundamentally, under fire. Four of them died in his arms. He recovered all 12; four of them died in his arms.
And each time he lowered himself he was attacked by machine gun fire from the enemy. And in fact, the wire rope in which he was suspended was struck twice and held up under the fire. That’s courage. There’s something else there too. It’s some kind of sense of belonging or some sense of loyalty to comrades.
Resilience. Again, not necessarily a new characteristic of those who serve but I would suggest to you that it’s resilience that’s being tested in ways that it hasn’t been in a very long time. I met, not so long ago, when I was asked to be the head of delegation for the Paralympics. I was honored to represent the United States as the head of delegation to the Paralympics.
And I met Navy Lieutenant Brad Snyder. He was blinded one year ago in Afghanistan. This year he won two gold medals and silver. Now that’s resilience. If you’re looking in the dictionary for resilience, look there. And that by the way applies not only to our men and women who serve, but to the families that support them. That’s who we are. Who are you?
Resolve. Now, this is a peacetime example but it’s worth noting. I have a young sergeant first class working in my outer office by the name of Samantha Johnson. Samantha Johnson’s about five foot two, as mean as a snake, strong as an ox. Here’s what Samantha’s done. She deployed to Iraq as a driver for an EOD team, explosive ordinance demolitions, that is to say a route clearance team, and she was the driver.
She came back and almost immediately in her particular specialty they needed somebody in Afghanistan because the guy who was doing the job had gotten – had come down with cancer. So she deployed almost immediately, back to back. She is a drill sergeant – was a drill sergeant. She is working on her second master’s. And she has a part-time job as a security job so she can pay off her mortgage. I’d call that resolve. That young lady knows what she wants.
And then adaptable. This one might be the one where I would suggest to you that today’s form of conflict requires a special emphasis on a particular attribute and that attribute is adaptability. We’ve got to be faster on our feet. We’ve got to be inquisitive. You know, Einstein once said – probably being a little falsely humble, but he said, you know, I’m not really the smartest guy, but I’m passionately inquisitive. And I think that’s a quality that we need to encourage – not just in the men and women in uniform, by the way, but really in our nation – to be passionately inquisitive; to keep up, in our case, with what changes on the battlefield, but in the case of the population in general, what takes place in everyday – in everyday technology changes, in everyday relationship issues – passionate curiosity.
So what we’ve done over the past 10 years, I would describe to you, is we’ve overcome physical fear. Physical fear is always part of the battlefield. We’ve overcome physical fear by developing new instincts. You know that when that big tsunami hit in Thailand about six or seven years ago now – you probably read the story that the animals ran – when the animals sensed that the sea was receding, the animals headed inland and up – and up to higher elevations. The people there on vacation said, wow, isn’t this cool? Let’s go out and see what’s at the bottom of this – and what happened? Back in came the tsunami and killed far too many. We’ve got to have new instincts for the world in which we find ourselves. And we’ve got to maintain, importantly, that sense of belonging and that sense of purpose that has defined us throughout our history as military but also has defined us throughout our history as Americans.
So that’s kind of maybe the obvious. Let me state a little bit of the less obvious. Many times even the toughest of veterans that are coming home will tell you that in some ways coming home is tougher than being in the combat zone. Why would that be? Well, remember I mentioned repetitive tours. It’s the emotional fear of constantly having to reintegrate with your family as they grow while you’re not there. That’s a reality.
Secondly, there is in combat a very singular focus. You know exactly what you have to do. Your purpose is defined; your mission is clear. The enemy will always confuse you at times; there’ll be fog and friction; but you have a sense of clarity that’s uncanny in combat. And then you return – and here’s the words of one particular veteran – to the million tiny anxieties of life outside the combat zone. He described it, this particular writer, as going from war at – where war is at max volume and in the foreground, and coming back to where war is at much lower volume and in the background. Max value – max volume and in the foreground; low volume and in the background. And it’s difficult for our veterans to reconcile that.
And finally and importantly, they’re coming back into the uncertainty of a difficult economic situation, a difficult economic environment and the uncertainty of employment.
Now, look, I’m only telling you that to support my thesis here, which is we’re at that point now, after 10 years of prolonged conflict and what appears to be continued challenges of that nature going into the future because of my security paradox – the question is, then, what is that image? What image is in your mind of the veteran? And is there something you should be doing to help shape it? The veterans of the past decade are you, or at least that’s what they want to be. Each in their own way has served heroically. Each in their own way has served heroically, but they’re not all heroes. Many have experienced real horrors of war, but they’re not all victims. All have served America and want to continue to serve her as they transition into your civilian communities.
On that basis alone, on the expectation that it’s in our shared interest – you and I, in and out of uniform – that we allow this generation of veterans to contribute, to bring the strengths that they bring, to bring the passionate curiosity that I’ve described, notwithstanding the pressures that they’ve felt – to the extent that we should agree that we all want a stronger America, then we ought to find a way to make sure that these veterans are part of it. And we ought to work together with them – not for them; with them.
Ultimately, who are you is a question that must be answered both by these veterans and the nation that sent them to war. I’ll end with a favorite quotation of mine: “Bad times, hard times; this is what people keep saying. But let us live well, and the times shall be good. We are the times. Such as we are, such are the times.” St. Augustine, fourth century. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
APRIL MASON: Thank you, General, for your wonderful comments and your thought-provoking theme. I know that I confused many of you when I came up here; I look so much like Kirk Schulz. My name is April Mason, and I serve as the provost here at Kansas State. I thought I might clear that up. The general will take questions now. We have microphones on either side of the auditorium. I’d ask you to make your way to those and wait for me to recognize you to pose the question. And we greatly appreciate you being willing to take questions, General.
Q: All right. I was wondering – you said that the military today is going to have to take cuts. In your opinion, what would be areas that it can take cuts, and what are areas that are most important for funding?
GEN. DEMPSEY: What I – yeah, what I really said – what the general meant to say was – (laughter) – that I think the Defense Department, as well as the rest of the – of the entire governmental enterprise, will have to find ways to help us address our common economic challenges – and that I expect, therefore, that I’ll have a smaller budget rather than a big one. I – you know, the cut question assumes that the reductions will be taken on the back of force structure or end strength. And that’s not – we’ve already got some end strength reductions planned. I don’t know that we know enough about whether sequestration will be detriggered or not to know whether we have to look at other force structure reductions. That remains to be seen.
That said, the real question is what needs to change based on the lessons of the last 10 years of war? And I would venture to say that among the changes are that – I mentioned decentralization. Conflict is somewhat decentralized and networked. So the military that I came into started thinking about conflict as large organizations that would disaggregate as necessary. I’m suggesting that potentially we will need to begin to think about building small organizations that can aggregate as necessary. And that’ll bring us to some conclusions about changes to force structure.
MS. MASON: On the other side, please.
Q: Sir, I have a question. What is – what’s your advice for the next military leaders of tomorrow?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Cheer me on, because if I leave you a mess, you’re not going to be very happy about it. (Laughter, applause.) No, I’m kidding; I’ll give you something. My advice – my advice is to – you know, you’ve already – what – are you in the service? Are you coming into the – where are you? Where – who are you? (Chuckles, laughter.) Go ahead.
Q: Sir, I’m the Reserve, but I’m also an ROTC cadet here at K State.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Great. Well, look, I – you know, I think you’ve made a decision. I mean, I could answer a question with a question about why you chose to do what you’re about to do. But I think I know most of the answer, and – because you’re looking for that sense of purpose, that sense of belonging that the military provides young men and women. I would suggest to you that at whatever rank you find yourself – you know, you’re going to start out as a second lieutenant; be the best second lieutenant you can be. Bloom where – you know, bloom where you’re planted. I’ll take care of Washington, D.C., you take care of Fort Riley, Kansas, and I think we’ll be fine. (Laughter, applause.)
Q: Good afternoon, sir. I am Abdulraheem Alkhiary, dual major here at – in political science and finance. I would like first of all to thank you on behalf of the Saudi Club for serving in the Gulf War. Second of all, there is many things going on in the old world. You have Afghanistan and you have the Arab Spring, et cetera. Two questions comes out of that. The situations that are happening right now in Afghanistan, where you have many U.S. soldiers getting shot by their Afghani colleagues, the question comes, why – what encourages the Afghanis to shoot their colleagues? What’s the cause of that? I want to get your opinion from that.
And would the U.S. change their relationship – the second question – would the U.S. change its relationship somehow with Libya, Egypt and Tunisia because of the protests that’s been happening around the embassies and the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Libya? Thank you.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I’d have to stay here for two or three days to do justice to those questions, but I will give you – I’ll react to both very briefly.
First of all, “Afwan.” It was my great honor to serve in the – in 1991, as it is today.
Secondly, on the – we call them insider attacks. The one thing we’ve learned over the past 10 years I think is that we’ve reinforced, you know, for every really complex problem, there’s a simple solution and it’s almost always wrong. So this is a really complex issue, one that demands that we understand it, and that as we understand, we do that collaboratively with our Afghan partners.
It’s – it is a – it is, as I’ve said before, a very serious threat, and one that we are seized with addressing. We’re likely not to eliminate it entirely, but I think we can do a heck of a lot better at getting it under control, especially if we get the cooperation of our Afghan partners. And I met just last week with the new minister of defense of Afghanistan, the new minister of interior, a couple of the corps commanders. And I’m – I left there convinced that they are as concerned about this as we are. But we’ve got a lot of work to do. And it is a tactic being employed by the Taliban and those who are ideologically opposed to the kind of Afghanistan we see and the best interests, both of them and us, in the future.
The Arab Spring is kind of the same – it’s – meaning it’s that complex geopolitical issue with ideological and religious undertones. It is – it has, you know, dozens of stakeholders who are seeking to influence the outcome. You asked will we abandon it just because of – I shouldn’t say “just because.” Will we abandon it because of some of the recent demonstrations and riots and even the loss of our – of our ambassador?
You know, Ambassador Chris Stevens would be the first one to say, the first one to say under no circumstances should we abandon that part of the world simply because of the acts of a few terrorists, fundamentally. And so I don’t think we will. But we’ve got – you know, this is a very complex time, and we want to make sure that we employ all of the instruments of our government and that we partner with those who have common interests in the region to try to find a way to settle those issues for the long term.
Q: General, thank you – excuse me – General, thank you for coming. What, in your view, is the strategic value of the bases outside the United States? We have bases in Japan, Germany, South Korea. In light of the rapid-response abilities of the current U.S. military – carrier battle groups, Marines, airborne, et cetera? And are those bases outside the U.S., are they worth the cost and political struggle? Thank you.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I’m actually one who believes very strongly in maintaining a forward presence for a couple of reasons that – some of which are – the access issue is clearly one of them, but also what it does for us. I think – meaning the development of our leaders, I think there is a significant advantage to allowing our leaders to grow up inside of different cultures, different languages, different customs and traditions, so we get to know each other before we potentially have to go fight with each other, because it’s – I’m telling you, what I’ve learned over the – over the – even just this first year as chairman is that at the end of the day, you know, process – it’s important to understand process. It’s vital to build relationships. And I think that our presence allows us to build a relationship of trust that just our deployments wouldn’t allow. I mean, my wife and I have lived in Germany for 12 years, we lived together in Saudi Arabia for two years and I’ve been in Iraq for three. And if you add up my time in Afghanistan, it’s probably one-plus. And so obviously you’re talking to someone who believes we really – we really have to be engaged in the world to help influence it, not do it from 6,000 miles away.
Q: Sir, I’m a cadet in the Air Force ROTC here. I’m about to graduate this May, and I was wondering what the Air Force or the military in general, in the Pacific, what you see being the focus of our mission, say, five, 10 years where I’ll be serving.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I – you know, as you know, the new defense strategy talked about rebalancing to the Pacific. We’ve been very careful not to describe that as a light switch – you know, one day you’re there, the next day you’re not. We never left, really. We just shifted our balance to the Mideast because that’s where the greatest security issues of the last 10 years have happened to reside.
I think it’s a fair – as – again, as you watch demographic trends, economic trends and military trends, you will see them trending toward the Pacific. And we want to be – you know, let me give you a Wayne Gretzky. I’m all over the map today with eclectic quotations here, from St. Augustine to Wayne Gretzky. I don’t know what’s going on. Wayne Gretzky, about your size, probably the best hockey player in history. We could debate that, I suppose. But somebody said to him once, you know, you’re not really a physically imposing guy. How do you – how come you were such a great hockey player? And he said, I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it’s been. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Q: General, obviously you talked a lot about reintegrating soldiers coming back from deployment. How do you think higher education at colleges, universities such as K State, play a role in that? What steps do you think colleges have allowed soldiers to maybe go back and earn a degree and have greater access to the job market and how that helps them integrate? And what steps do you think need to be taken by higher education?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, one of the – I think – first of all, I think the partnership with higher education is terrific. I mean, I couldn’t be more pleased with every place I go, higher education is seeking to increase the degree to which we partner with each other. I think we’ve got to do a little – I think we both have some work to do. I think we’ve got to do a little better job of preparing our veterans to move into that environment.
Remember what I said about, you know, a veteran coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan goes from, you know, life at Mach 4 to something far slower and somewhat more muted, and I think that—when I look at how we prepare veterans to move into this civilian society and into education in particular, there’s some work we can do.
We just did, with the Veterans Administration, revise our transition programs. And I think they’ll be better, and we’ll continue to adapt them as necessary, at preparing veterans to enter academia. On the part of academia, I think you have to understand that they’re not high school kids coming out of senior year and matriculating into a normal academic experience. They – first of all, they come with – they come with some incredible strengths, they come with some vulnerabilities because of all the things I just mentioned. And there are some organizations – veteran support organizations – that are kind of growing up around the country that let’s call it mentor these young men and women that come into higher education, because our – because our drop-out rate’s too high right now. And so I think we need to – we need a little help, and we need do to some things ourselves.
Q: Hello, sir. My name is Kristy Robinson. I’m the widow of Sergeant Jessie Earl Robinson, and I’m also a student at K State. I’m getting a dual major in mathematics and secondary education. And my concern today is about that there are many of our service members and veterans who return home and suffer PTSD, and when this is left untreated, it often results in a suicide, as was the case with my husband. And I was wondering, what can the nation or our communities and the military do to better treat and help our soldiers and veterans and help take care of their families, you know, as the soldiers are dealing with the post-traumatic stress, anxiety and reintegration issues?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Well, first of all, I’m deeply sorry for your loss, and I thank you profoundly for stepping forward to tell us your story. How about we all give her a round of applause. (Applause.) The effort in PTSD is one of those issues where we have to be on a campaign of learning. So if we were to have this conversation 10 years ago, we were trying to increase the – we still are trying to increase the protection at the point of impact. You know, we’re putting mechanical devices on helmets that sense that – you know, pressure from blast effects. That’s part of it. We’re also partnering with – by the way, with the National Football League and other sports experts to try to understand how to reduce the impact.
But then there’s some medicine and chemistry. A good friend of mine, Pete Chiarelli, who I was supposed to meet for dinner tomorrow, is on a campaign – you probably know Pete Chiarelli; at least you know him by name – he was the vice chairman – vice chief of staff of the Army, and probably our most – our most active, passionate advocate for the study of PTSD and how to map it, how to understand it, you know, because it is – how to reduce the stigma, all the things that I’m sure you could speak to me about far more eloquently than I can speak to you.
In the time available, what I will tell you is we are absolutely seized with PTSD, moderate traumatic brain injury and suicide, as well as some other things, and the effects of prolonged, repeated conflict. Suicide in particular, though, is not uniquely a military challenge, as you well know. But I promise you, we are not – we’re not complacent about this. We are seized with it. And I really do appreciate you giving me the opportunity to assure you of that. Thank you. (Applause.)
Q: General, thank you for being here. Going along with what she said, to the men in service, to the servicemen and women that are returning from deployment to civilian population, what do you think we as a society could help them cope better into emerging into civilian population again?
GEN. DEMPSEY: No, that’s a great question. It’s the conversation I’m hoping to start. I mean, the conversation has started. Maybe what I’m trying to do is turn the volume up a little bit, because, you know, we’re – Iraq is no longer our fight. The Iraqi people, the Iraqi security forces have taken that on for themselves. Afghanistan will soon do the same. And we’ll have more veterans back in this country transitioning out. The budget reductions we talk about will likely – no, not likely; it will create more veterans. And so I want to have that conversation now before this all begins to happen in big numbers.
And I don’t know the answer. I – and in fact, I’ve studied it; I’ve read – I mean, I’m a pretty voracious reader. I’m trying to read everything that veterans are saying. I can’t get it all. There’s even some novelists that are – meaning literary authors who are taking this up. There’s a book I just read called “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” that’s kind of a – I’m not – by the way, this is not a promotion for the book, but it’s actually – it’s kind of the – if you remember the book “Catch-22” and Vietnam, this is kind of “Catch-22” for the past 10 years. It’s pretty interesting. I don’t agree with all of it, but I want to understand it, and I want you to be part of the conversation.
And, you know, it – this is kind of one of those places where we all say thanks to them, but how much – you know, how often do we take the time to ask them to share their experiences, or how often are you willing to share your experiences? I think we have to have a conversation, because look, this isn’t about forming an image of the veteran for us. This is about forming an image of the veteran for America, because every generation does that. And it’s now time for us to do that. And I really want the image to be positive. And so – because it should be positive. So I need your help. I can’t answer the question for you, but I need your help in answering it.
Q: Thank you.
MS. MASON: We’ll be able to take one last question.
Q: Thank you. My question picks up on the line of conversation from the last question. And I don’t know if there’s a ready answer for it, but I’m wondering when you try to picture what military leaders could do to help corporate and industrial partners transition from a wartime economy to an economy of peace, what are some of the things you think can be done?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, it – since it’s the 21st century, one of the premises I have is that our ability to connect should be a heck of a lot more – it should be a lot more possible for us to make the kind of connections you’re talking about in this century than it was in the last century. That’s a given.
And so leveraging, I think, technology to share some common appreciation and understanding of where these young men and women are, what they – I mean, I’m trying to transition the personnel system of our military – this is kind of my challenge – which is kind of industrial age, you know, and the ability of the young men or women to kind of have a hand in crafting their career differently than we have had in the past is possible today given technology. So I’m trying to – that – by the way, this is hard – this is hard government at work.
But on the other side, I think there’s some – there are some opportunities. I think public-private partnerships tend to work better than to expect me or the government to do everything top-down. The most successful programs for helping veterans, for – even for things like our acquisition strategies are generally public-private partnerships and almost always grow from the bottom up. I think – I just have this sense that if I – if I challenge you and challenge America to help me figure this out, I think the tools are there to figure it out, but I can’t do it by myself.
MS. MASON: When was it that you went to a talk and the theme was from The Who and you had quotes from St. Augustine and Wayne Gretzky? I think we have heard a very insightful view into the actions of our military, and you have answered so many wonderful questions. I thank the audience for those.
Would you all join me in thanking General Dempsey? (Applause.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: Thank you. Thanks. Thank you.