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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the Marine Corps Association and Foundation

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey , Crystal City, Va.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Have a seat, have a seat.

You really shouldn’t stand up until you hear what I have to say. (Laughter.) OK, here it is: the world is a dangerous place – (laughter) – we need to be ready, we need to be more affordable and we need to find ways to work together more effectively. OK, that’s pretty much it.

(Cheers, applause.)

The staff said I had to say something substantive here at length. (Laughter.) We’re really glad to be here and to see the great Marine Corps team in action and the family that you are. That’s something we very deeply – Deanie and I very deeply admire about you. So I got to tell you a little story to start. I – Deanie and were in Ireland last weekend for the Navy Notre Dame bowl. (Cheers, applause.) Hey, don’t blame me again, I was rooting for Notre Dame. (Laughter.) But as it turns out, the night before, we went to an Irish pub, and I mean, you expect that – (laughter). I hope I’m not disappointing any of you, but if I am, you can just file that away for some future purpose.

But we went to an Irish pub, and in the Irish pub, we happened to be sitting back, and we saw, sitting, sort of, around the rail of the bar, we saw a Notre Dame – a young man who had graduated from Notre Dame. And we saw a sailor and we saw a Marine. And each of them - they were getting along kind of well, actually. This was a very important game. And they were – they each ordered a pint of Guinness. And as the pints were delivered to – and it takes a little time now I’m gonna let you know – as the pints were delivered, just as they sat the three pints down in front of these three rascals, a fly was buzzing – three flies actually, buzzing the room, and the three flies landed – I’m not making this up – one, two, three – one, two, three, right into the three pints of Guinness. Now honestly, it was the damnedest thing I ever saw. But then – so the young – the young guy from Notre Dame, he kind of looks down at his pint of Guinness, and he, with this disgusted look, he pushes it away, and he says to the bartender, he says, I’ll have – I – give me another, I can’t drink that. The sailor, you know, looked down into the pint – the foam on top and reached down and picked up the fly and pulled it out and threw it and started drinking. I mean, he took the good Guinness gulp as they call it, and started to drink the – drink the pint. The Marine looked down at this fly and grabbed it between his fingers and pulled it out and squeezed and said, spit it out you bastard, spit it out!

(Laughter, applause.)

I was so proud actually. (Laughter.) You know, we’re delighted to be here tonight, especially delighted to spend time with your great Commandant Jim Amos and Bonnie, and I know that Sergeant Major Barrett and Susan are here as well. The commandant, by the way, might be the heart of the Marine Corps, but the Sergeant Major is the pulse. (Cheers, applause.) So I mentioned I was in Ireland – did I mention that? I – and I love the way the Irish talk, actually. I mean, no turns of phrase. So here’s a - here’s a – this is a toast, actually. I brought my glasses up on purpose. So here’s a toast to the Amos-Barrett team – may you live to be – may you live to a hundred years, with one year to repent. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)

MS. : (Crosstalk)

Those of you – those of you who know them will know what I’m talking about.

MS. : Bonnie said he needs more than a year.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Bonnie’s always right. No, we’re really proud of the – of the Marine Corps team. I also want to mention – there are – I’m told, there are two Montford Marines here, who, I think we would all agree, help make the Corps what it is today. First Sergeant George Kidd and Staff Sergeant Charles Manuel, where are you – if you are here please stand up.


You honor us with your presence and you inspire us with your service. I’d like to compliment the Marine Corps Association and the foundation. Obviously, coming from the – through the Army, I haven’t gotten to know you the – I mean, I obviously knew of you, we have our own associations in the Army. Each service has – (inaudible). And – but one of the things I talk about as often as I can is the public, private and venturing partnership that, frankly, we’re going to need even more of in the future than – even more than we have in the past. And so, thank you to the Marine Corps Association, first of – first of all, for the invitation, second of all, what you do for the Corps. And ultimately, because you’re doing it for the Corps, you’re doing it for the nation. And I have a toast for you too, right. So here’s my toast to the Marine Corps Association and Foundation. It is better to spend money like there is no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there’s no money. (Laughter, applause.)

God, I really enjoyed myself. Look, I kid around at the beginning, but I know you – you know, the world is more dangerous, we got to be more affordable. You know, the – all the – all the – you know all the challenges that we face, whether they’re budgetary challenges or geostrategic challenges, demographic challenges, economic challenges. I happen to believe in my heart that we’re going to be OK. And we’re going to be OK because, as a nation, we continue to attract just incredible young men and women into the service of the nation. And, you know, as I – as we get a chance – as Deanie and I get a chance to, you know, to travel around and to meet – we – let me – the best thing about being Chairman, frankly, is the fact that we get to meet everybody. We’re not just confined into the narrow confines of our – in my case, of our Army. So I’ve gotten to know all of you, and I’ve gotten to know our great Air Force. And by the way – in a – in a sure sign of what’s going to come in the future, for me as the Chairman, being able to mold this incredible team of service chiefs into a Joint Chiefs of Staff, we have with us tonight here, the new and terrific Chief of Staff of the Air Force and his lady, Mark and Betty Welsh. (Applause.)

So I think a lot – you know I grew up, actually with several of my family members who were Marines, and, you know, they were kind of the – they inspired me. I have some – many people who – some know, some don’t know. I actually tried to get into the Naval Academy as a young 18-year-old and couldn’t make it in because of my eyesight, which has gotten a lot keener now – put that glass down while I’m talking. (Laughter.) And – but had I – had I – had I – matriculated into the Marine – I mean, into the Naval academy, I suspect – I can’t absolutely guarantee this because I’m not sure I would have made it actually – but I suspect that I would have gravitated to the Marine Corps, and I am, after all, someone with a greater fondness for the ground than I am for the air or the sea, but I – you know, the Marine Corps has always had, kind of, this mythical magic, really, to me. And I love – this is the way I think about Marines, I’m not just telling you this because you’re buying me dinner tonight. (Laughter.) I’m really not. And I think Jim Amos would attest to that. I mean, the Marines, as I travel around the world and as I get to meet them, and on the occasion when I can meet their families, it’s just a terrific experience.

And there is something mythical. I hope you feel it. You know, you might almost be too close to it to feel it, but there is something mythical about the United States Marine Corps. Magical, magnificent, and again, I’m – this isn’t me being a sycophant Chairman of the Joint Chiefs trying to, you know, bring you on my side. You know, Jim doesn’t need that. Jim’s doing fine all by himself. But as Deanie and I travel around, whether it’s a Marine security detachment at an embassy, or it’s a, you know, it’s a – it’s a unit in southern Helmand in dust up to your, I’ll say knee, but it might be a little higher than your knee. It’s just absolutely unbelievable what we ask these young men to do and the way we do it.

I wrote down some attributes, actually, that cause me to think – when I think Marines, this is what – first of all, I’m insanely jealous about the fact that you’ve been able to keep your uniform consistent. (Laughter, applause.) And somebody said to me, what’s the best thing about being Chairman after being the chief of staff of the army? I said, I don’t have to screw around with the uniform anymore, because it’s unbelievable, you know, the way we twist and turn ourselves with uniforms. But that’s really not what it is. It’s really – the attributes I think about are kind of clear-eyed, actually. I wrote down the flat belly in a society that, frankly, doesn’t do that, you know, doesn’t even aspire to do that. Clean cut, ramrod straight. When I see Marines out and about, you know, it’s almost as though somebody, you know, kind of drained out their fluid and shot steel into it. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) No, I really mean that. What was that? I mean, what’s up with that? You know. They just proved this down by the table there. (Laughter, applause.) I mean, it’s not like a whole room of people delivering the Heimlich maneuver. So I’m not completely a sycophant, I’m telling you. I opened up – I was honored to be the head of delegation, actually, for the United States at the Paralympics just last week, and I’m sure you know that among that group of young men and women representing the United States was Sergeant Rob Jones, double amputee, Helmand Province, 2010, and just won the bronze medal in the mixed doubles scull competition. (Cheers, applause.)

I’ll tell you, those – that – you talk about an occasion on which you realize how lucky you are, you know the Paralympics – Deanie and I met a – and he wasn’t serviceman, but some of you may have heard of him. He was an archer and – without arms. He was born without arms, and he’s managed to find a way to be a world class archer. And at 70 – we were watching him shoot it – he came in – he got a silver medal, though, and he was winning it after day one, but at 70 meters, this guy was putting, you know, this arrow in – consistently in the 10s and nines. And, you know, I walked over to him, and I wanted to give him one of my coins. And so, you know I was a little – it’s a little awkward, sometimes, really, giving coins to some of these kids who have lost limbs. So I, you know, I had the coin and I said, where do you want me to put it, and he said, he lifted up his foot and he said, here hand it to me right – and so I started putting it between his toes, and he went down and he unzipped his bag, threw the coin in the bag, you know, and set the – zipped the bag back up. You know, and then went back to grabbing the arrows with his foot, cocking the arrow with his other foot, you know, leaning in and shooting the thing with his face, and he said, yeah. After that I thought to myself, I am never going to have another bad day in my entire life. Unbelievable. (Applause.)

So what’s the other image I have of today’s United States Marine Corps? And not just today, but their – my recent history. I probably, you know, we tend to come to other services later – in the absence of war, you come to the other services kind of late in your career. So I probably began to interact with Marine Corps Officers probably at the rank of about colonel, to tell you the truth. Now, of course, you know, second lieutenants and buck sergeants are interacting with each other on the battlefield, and that’s a great thing. But I came to it kind of late, so in my – in my kind of – my pantheon of heroes in the Marine Corps are guys like Zinni and Dunford, and – I’m kind of listing them in the order in which I met, them actually. Zinni and Dunford, Newbold and Jones, Pace and Mattis, Allen and Amos and Kelly, and I’d add to that tonight, because I had forgotten to write it down, Foford and Sattler, you know – (applause) – general officers – this is when I was a colonel, in some cases – general officers, you’d like to be like when you grow up, kind of.

I tell the story often that when I was deployed to Iraq the second time, spent about 22 months, and General Pete Pace was the Commandant, I was the – he had – he was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And Deanie was living down at Fort Belvoir, an army post, and obviously we’re an army family. The one guy that kept in touch with Deanie Dempsey the entire time I was deployed was Pete Pace. So that’s the kind of heart that that Marine had, and I will never forget that, and I will always tell people when they ask me, tell me something about leadership, tell me about something that actually matters. It’s about people who, you know, believe in each other and trust in each other. And so I come back to another toast. There’s a Yeats quotation that’s a lot longer, but I’ll distill it. Distill is one of my favorite words by the way. (Laughter.) Some of you might consider it shortened, but here’s how it goes, and I think it’s actually quite meaningful. It goes like this: think where a man’s glory most begins and ends, and say, my glory was I had such friends. So here’s to my friends. (Silverware rattling.)

You think you’re done with me, but you’re not. (Laughter.) Because I’m going to mention something else about Marines. Only the Marine Corps has in their motto, semper fidelis. A value, that value called faithfulness. Always faithful. And only the Marine Corps has in their hymn the phrase “to keep our honor clean. Only the Marine Corps actually has a value placed inside of that document and that song which defines them. And I find that extraordinary. I find it – I find it extraordinary because, in the world in which we are living and are going to live, our commitment to those values has never been more important. And Jim and I talk often. When I talk to John Allen in Afghanistan, or Jim Mattis at CENTCOM or Jim Angus in the tank at the Pentagon, and we talk about, what are we going to do about this – you know this – about – what are we going to do – this is a really hard issue, it’s complex, it kind of pushes uncomfortably at who we think we are. And Jim Mattis is often the one that says, I’m not sure, but we’ll be OK if we can see we’ll keep our honor clean. That means a great deal to me personally, and it says volumes about who the Marine Corps is for yourselves, but also an important for our nation.

I want to say something, almost finally, about your families. I am – you know, all of our families of every service, army, navy, air force, Marines and coast guard have suffered – have suffered but have become stronger because – in my view, have become stronger because of the experience – but we can never forget how important it is to thank them, not to take it for granted, to keep fighting on their behalf, to keep recognizing the fact that they are – that they are sacrificing every bit as much as we are. And so I have a toast for the spouses, and it goes like this: I have known many, and liked not a few, but loved only one, and this toast is for you. So to our spouses. (Applause.) We don’t know how lucky we are.

The last thing I’ll say – you know, I was going to try to sing tonight – (cheers, laughter) – but I – no, no, no – but I – two things – there are two problems, actually. One is –

MR. : Go for it!


GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I had two problems, actually. One is that I have this awful cold – I’ve been – seriously, I picked up this awful cold, and so, normally I’m a tenor, now I sound like Lou Rawls, and I just can’t – I can’t – you know, I can’t – I just can’t wrap my head around it. The second thing: I couldn’t figure out how to get the Marine Corps into the song “Red Solo Cup.” I just – (laughter). No I really tried, I tried. So I’m going to defer that – but I did write a toast. Didn’t steal this, I wrote it. And I’d like to end my remarks with this toast to the United States Marine Corps.

Here’s to the land of the red, white and blue. Here’s to each Marine, and their darling too. Here’s to the ones we love dearest and most, may God bless the Marine Corps, that’s this chairman’s toast. (Cheers, applause.)

God bless you and semper fi. (Applause.)