GENERAL ROBERT KEHLER: Well, if you didn’t hear the sergeant major, who doesn’t need a microphone – (laughter) – it is a real pleasure for us to have the chairman and Deanie with us today. This is the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has a schedule and a travel plan that is unbelievable, and so it is a real treat for us to be able to have him here today. I know he’s anxious to get to know and talk with all of you, and so without any further ado, ladies and gentlemen, General Martin Dempsey, the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Applause.)
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: All right.
Thanks very much. I know that there’s at least a few of you out there saying, you know, he doesn’t look that old in person. (Laughter.) And for those – I bless you all who would be thinking like that. (Laughter.)
Now we’re – Deanie and I are delighted to be here. I’ve been the chairman now for about 10 months, and it’s been our intent, right from the start, to get to each of the combatant commands and to kind of do that in between our visits to our foreign counterparts, who are many. And so we’re delighted that we got here. Sorry it’s taken so long, but the – as General Kehler said, the schedule can sometimes be a bit tyrannical, almost, I would describe it.
In some ways, though, it’s also a reflection of how good you are, because the truth is, you know, you tend to gravitate, as the chairman, to the places where you’re having problems. And I won’t name names of combatant commands or name names of parts of the world, but it’s in some way a backhanded tribute to those of you here from STRATCOM and the 55th Wing and the – and the Air Force Weather Agency and so forth that we could wait 10 months before we came here. So at some level, I suppose you’re the victims of your own success, and Deanie and I want to compliment you on what you do for your country with a – with a rather incredible portfolio, the kind of portfolio that sometimes, frankly, we forget we have, but never forget that we need. So my compliments to all of you. And I know – I’m sure there’s family members – I’m sure all of you have been deployed. I know that there’s family members in the audience whose spouses are deployed, and for that, we deeply thank you and admire you. And we’ll talk about that maybe a bit in the Q-and-A.
So I’ll just spend a very few minutes describing kind of where I think we are and link it to where I think you can help us even more than you’ve already been helping us as a nation, as a – as armed forces. And then I’ll be happy to – I really will honestly be happy to take your questions, or for that matter, if it’s not so much a question, but you know, a little advice for the chairman, I’d – I’ll take it, a little criticism, if you must. But this is about – you know, we used to call these things town hall meetings. I don’t know how they advertised it to you, but Deanie and I over time have kind of decided they’re more like family meetings, you know. And that’s the way they feel, you know, because when you get together with your families at Thanksgiving, you know, some things go well; some things don’t go so well. And sometimes you’re happy when you see people leave, you know? So – (laughter) – and I know – I know that your security guys will be happy to see me leave, and those that manage traffic. And you’ll probably be happy to see me leave too so that I don’t keep clogging up your road networks.
So a little family meeting toward the end. Let me give you a couple thoughts about what’s going on with the armed forces of the United States. So Omaha means those who go against the wind – (audio interference) – I don’t speak Omaha, whatever language that happens to be, but that’s what it means. And that’s kind of – you know, that’s kind of the way it feels sometimes, those who go against the wind. And you can pick your own metaphor for what winds we’re moving against these days. But it’s a pretty challenging time.
And I think we only get through it because of perseverance, you know, and whether that’s a very long, challenging conflict in Iraq, an ongoing – as yet to be completed conflict in Afghanistan, the threat which still exists of global terrorism, emerging challenges, security – some of which are security challenges, some of which are economic challenges, kind of buffeting us. It does feel a little bit like, you know, we’re in a big windstorm. And for those of you that have lost your lawn furniture off your porches, you know that on occasion, that happens. And you know, what you do is go pick it up, you put it back up, you try to weight it down, and you wait for the next windstorm. And so that’s – it’s not a bad metaphor, really, to the kind of challenge that this century and this decade of this century presents us. And it will be perseverance that gets us through, and a couple of other bits of secret sauce that I’ll share with you here in a second.
So I tell people I’ve got three principal responsibilities as the chairman. I’ve got to manage three transitions. And that, by the way – for those of you that are senior – and most of you in this room are pretty senior – the thing we do, most importantly, is we manage transitions. The – you know, the tactical execution is generally managed well below us. And what our job is is to kind of anticipate change, prepare for that change and manage that change.
So what are the three changes that I focus on? Well, one is it’s resetting the force for different kinds of security challenges. We’ve spent 10 years focused like a laser beam on counterinsurgency. Now, we got to still do some of that, or you know, call it what you will. We’re having a bit of a vocabulary contest now about how we should describe this – stability ops, counterinsurgency, shaping, you know, whatever you want to – whatever word you’re most comfortable with. The point is we’re going to be doing a little bit of that for the – for the foreseeable future, as well as confronting global terrorism – for the foreseeable future.
But the vast majority of the force won’t be doing that as it has been for 10 years. It’ll be resetting itself, rekindling skills that maybe – that maybe have been sidelined for a bit – maneuver – and I mean, that’s – I’m a ground guy, so I think in those terms. But in your own particular MOS or specialty, I’m sure you know that there have been some things over the last 10 years that we’ve had to kind of set aside. And so we got to make that transition from a focus on the repeated deployments into counterinsurgency operations into a force that is ready for the challenges we anticipate in the second half of this decade. So that’s one big transition.
The second one is bigger budget to smaller budget. Now, I don’t know how much bigger – well, in fact, I do know how much bigger it’s going to get. It’s not. So the bigger part of it isn’t what I focus on, it’s how much smaller might it become, how much smaller. But there’s a better way to describe that, really; how much smaller can it become? And you might say, well, why should it become any smaller?
And the answer to that question, I think, is probably actually quite evident, and that is that the nation has an economic problem and the national power is the aggregate of military, economic and diplomatic power. And if one leg of that is weakened, then national power is weakened. So we can’t ignore that. We have to be part of solving it. We can’t be the only one trying to solve it, I promise you that.
And the question we will answer, with your help, is, how much smaller will that budget become and still allow us to preserve our resources necessary to live up to that responsibility we have, which is to protect – prevent the United States of America from being coerced in any domain. We are a global power. And I think we can figure that out, with your help.
And then the third transition – I guess this is kicking in and out, huh? Do you want me to use the hand mic, by the way? Although sometimes when people hand me the hand mic, nothing good comes of it. (Laughter.) I turn into, like, this Frank Sinatra monster. No, but I won’t do that. (Audio interference.) (Laughter.) I got somebody out there disrupting my signal; distributed denial of services. Let me have a comm guy here. Maybe we can turn this one off. I might be clobbering myself here. OK. I’ll stand still and not talk with my hands. Hard to do. Come here. Go ahead, you can – (getting assistance with microphone adjustment.) (Laughter.) OK. I just want to make sure I’m not creating my own problem.
The third challenge is we’ve got – we already know that we have a – (Audio malfunctions.) And that’s going to be, you know, depending on how we anticipate it. It could be – (inaudible) – a hundred thousand – (inaudible) – 20,000, maybe – (inaudible). So what’s the transition we have to manage there?
The transition we have to manage there is make sure we do it right, make sure we take – you know, that we don’t abandon someone who has served their country during time of war and just sort of toss them over the transom. And that transition is going to be maybe the most challenging of all, because it’s trying to merge, you know, two Cabinet-level agencies, DOD and VA. It’s trying to reach out into the civilian sector. It’s trying to reach out into academia. But we’re working all that. And some of you may know about that. I hope many of you do.
I’m going to set this down so I can – (referring to his microphone). I’ve got a big enough voice that – (inaudible).
(Speaking without a microphone) So those are the three transitions that we – (inaudible).
The other thing I want to talk to you about is – (inaudible). And here’s the other – (inaudible). When we look at 2020, you might think – (inaudible). Well, I hope we do, but it’s more likely that we’ll change about 20 percent of who we are and what we are and how we operate. Now, why do I say only 20 percent, you might say, “Well geez general that’s not very aggressive.” No, maybe not, but it’s realistic, because most of what we will have in 2020, we’ve already procured or we’re procuring. Our leader development plans are in train. They’re already running. The organizations we’ve designed exist, and it’s pretty hard to change them on a short-term basis. So I decided to focus on the 20 percent, and if we can make a significant change to our way of operating and to our profession at the 20th percentile, first of all, it would be an incredible accomplishment; secondly, that change will wash back over the rest of the force.
But you can’t think of change as though we should change everything, because we shouldn’t change everything. We’re doing pretty good, actually, when you look at it. And I don’t think we need to change it a hundred percent, but I’m looking at about 20 percent. So that’s the second thing you need to know.
And the third thing you need to know is that when people say to me, what do you want to be known for when you give up the job as chairman? And I always say, why do you ask? Is there something about the way I’m working now that would lead you believe I’m almost done? (Laughter.) And sometimes they say yes, and sometimes they say no. But the point is it isn’t a bad thing to kind of write your after action report while you start the job, because it gives you something to shoot for. And also, when you get to the other end, you can open up the envelope, read it, and say, you’ve got it or you didn’t. So I actually have thought about that. What is it that I want – what do I want to be known as when my time as chairman is done?
Here it is: I want to be the chairman that got the people right, because the equipment kind of is what it is, and those systems are – they’re really hard to change. Secondly, organizations, guidance, you know, all that stuff is very dynamic. And oftentimes, you know, we come to it late. You know, we get the equipment right late. We get the organizational design right, but late. We give guidance – and I can vouch for this personally – late. But if we get the people right, you know, if we develop leaders, if we keep the right people in as we shrink, if we – if we manage the talent in the force, if we keep faith with family members, if we keep faith with veterans, wounded warriors, Gold Star Families, if we – if we can keep that bond of trust that has kept us together through some really tough times – I mean, last 10 years, what has kept us together is a bond of trust, probably unique in any profession at any time. Ten years of conflict with an all-volunteer force never happened before; happened now, still happening, must still happen.
And so I got to be the guy that gets the people part of this right, or at least helps get it right. And you have to help me get the people part of this right, you know. Everybody in here probably leads some aspect of this profession, you know. So if you kind of take that burden on board from the bottom up, I’ll try to match it with my interest level from the top down. And then I think, you know, when you ask, are we going to be OK, the answer is absolutely. But if you lose faith, if I lose faith, if we break the bond of trust with the American people, who don’t see us as just another special interest group; they really see us as a profession that cares about them – if we can sustain that through all of this uncertainty, whether it’s budget uncertainty or security uncertainty, then I think you can look yourself in a mirror whenever you end your career, and you can feel pretty god about it.
So that’s kind of where we are. Deanie and I are – really, we’re excited to have had the chance to come here for what will amount to about a day and a half, when you count the times, you know, at the middle of the night. And in that period of time, I’ve been interrupted by three VTCs back to Washington, D.C., which in fact will cause us to abbreviate this session just a bit.
But the point is, you know, you’re doing so well that we were able to kind of delay this trip out here to see you till now. But I’ll tell you, coming out here to spend time with your senior leaders and now with you, to see what you do – and you do it kind of as quiet professionals in the middle – literally in the middle of the country – is extremely encouraging to us, and we admire you, and we thank you for it.
So now I’d like – oh, what is he going to do with that? (referring to boom mic) (Laughter.) Where’s my security – (inaudible). (Laughter.) So now I’ll ask you to – for – in any way enter into a conversation that’s part of this family meeting. First one is always tough, and then it’ll pick up, so who wants to be the brave soul to ask the first question?
Yes. Thank you for that, by the way. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, thank you. I’m Sergeant – (name inaudible) – and I’m – (inaudible) – from the Air Force Weather Agency. And I had a question pertaining to your unique advisory capacity to President Obama. Seeing about security concerns in North Korea, the ballistic missile test in 2012 and possible intelligence that are leaning towards a nuclear test with the Iranian device, I was wondering what was your advice to President Obama following the 2012 missile test, and what would your advice be in the future if there is nuclear test?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Wow. I thought you said you were a weather woman? (Laughter.) You should be on the national security staff. (Laughter.) Well, that’s a great question. (Audio break) he gives me – you know, I give him advice, and he gives me guidance. (Laughter.) But you know, one of the things – one of our responsibilities – and it’s not mine uniquely; it’s mine as part of the Joint Chiefs – is to, you know, take a – you take a look at the individual issues that are kind of consuming your time, so Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Egypt, wherever it happens to be. And our job is to kind of make sure we see the whole thing in context.
So the first thing is we always try not to look at a particular event, for example, a ballistic missile test, but rather to provide the context in which that event exists. So it’s a ballistic missile test in a context of an increasingly – of a North Korea interested in becoming increasingly nuclear. It’s in the context of a new leader. It’s in the context of a different China than maybe we had – we had 10 years ago, in the context of our rebalancing to the Pacific. And so our advice becomes how to manage (inaudible) – it must be like, you know, position-sensitive or something.
Anyway, so the advice becomes how to address that particular issue, but in context so that we can shape a future regionally and globally, not narrowly. Does that help you? Yeah. And by the way, he takes – you know, he’s very thoughtful about taking our advice and then merging our advice with the other advice he gets from other cabinet members and his national security team. And we do what we think is best for the country.
Next. Yes, please.
Q: (Off mic.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: Did you say – (inaudible) ISR?
Q: (Off mic.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh – (inaudible). Sorry. Well, I – you know – oh, here you go. (Laughter.)
MRS DEMPSEY: I’m starting a collection. (Laughter.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: All right – you, please, sit down. Thanks for the question. All right, let me – let me answer the question in context, because again, you know, there’s a, you know, manned/unmanned debate. But let me put it in context. There’s three capabilities that are so different today than they were 10 years ago that we really need to understand how they fit together into what was sort of traditional military activity and not – and again, not look at them as isolated incidences.
And the three emerging – yeah, three – the three emerging capabilities are special operating forces – so special operation forces grew from 33,000 to 2001 to 64,000 today, and over the course of the – (inaudible) – by ’17 they’ll be at 71,000, so more than twice the size and exponentially more capable. OK, so we got to figure out, what do you do with that capability?
Second, cyber. If you – if I’d had a town hall or a family meeting with your predecessors 10 years ago and I’d said, you know, I really think that 10 years from now we’re going to see cyber as both our greatest opportunity and our greatest threat, people would have thought I’d lost my mind. I mean, they would – look, they would have, right? And now – I mean, cyber and – all right, look, how many of you have a smartphone? The rest of you better get on board. (Laughter.) And you know, the smartphone combines – it combines wave forms. It combines voice, data, video. It combines all those wave forms that 10 years ago you’d have to have a separate device for every one of those. Imagine what that’s going to be like 10 years from now. I mean, it is hard to imagine. But what I can say definitively is that cyber today is our greatest opportunity and our greatest vulnerability. So we’ve got to figure it out.
And the third one is ISR, because for one thing, we collapse three words that maybe don’t belong together. You know, this is a bit of a debate, because intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are different things. And then from that comes the issue of manned/unmanned. And I do think that 10 years from now, that we will have a different proportion of our military capability in manned and unmanned platforms. Now, I don’t know what that percentage will be, but it’s hard for me to foresee a picture where the percentage of manned capability and unmanned doesn’t change.
And I’m not just talking about in the air. I’m talking about on the ground. We’ve said for quite some time, if we could ever get the ability at a reasonable price with reasonable – with feasibility and capability to have unmanned supply convoys, whether they be unmanned on the ground or unmanned with rotary wing, unmanned aircraft, we would save a lot of lives. So there’s some motivation here to doing it, and it’s not just about grabbing ahold of technology. So the percentage will change, but it will never – I can’t ever foresee that we wouldn’t have, you know, manned flight, manned activities and – and by the way, there’s not only the kind of feasibility issues related to some things related to unmanned, but also some ethical considerations that we really need to wrestle with as we go forward.
But all I’m predicting for it is – what rank are you now, by the way?
Q: Master sergeant.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, by the time you’re a sergeant major – (laughter) – probably you may not recognize it; it could change that much. But what can’t change is you, your commitment to continuing to learn and your commitment to leadership. And if that stays true, the platforms are going to be what the platforms are.
What else? This side. Come on, pick it up here, choir. (Laughter.) Somebody in this – I’m not leaving this section until you ask me a question. You could ask me who won the College World Series last night. I know the answer. (Laughter.) Anybody? Yes, sir.
Q: Sir, Jim Collasacco, STRATCOM staff. In light of the comment about keeping the faith, what’s your thoughts on how DOD controls health care costs and the impact?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Could you all hear that? It’s a question about health care and the cost of health care. And look, one of the things that I – that I wrestle with both intellectually and emotionally the most is that issue of man – personnel costs, pay compensation, health care, retirement. OK? So, you know, it’s a big pile of money. In fact, it’s the biggest pile of money that we have in our budget. And it is a pile of money that is – that that account, the manpower account – you know this – is placing a greater demand on the budget overall than it ever has, and it’s not sustainable. I’m not saying that to be Chicken Little; I’m telling you the facts that our manpower costs projected over time at a size force we have today will quickly overwhelm the budget.
I was the chief of staff of the Army. So a service chief has about four bins into which he – he or she can toss money. You can toss it into – you take the budget, you toss it into the manpower bucket, you toss it into operations, maintenance and training, you toss it into modernization and you toss it into things like infrastructure and MILCON [military construction]. OK, if you are told you can’t – you know, you have to keep throwing the same amount of money in every bucket, and the budget goes down, you’re going to be putting less in the other three buckets, and eventually you do achieve what we have called the hollow force.
So we have to figure out how to make our manpower costs more affordable. We just have to do that. If we fail to do that, then – and we are precluded from shedding unneeded infrastructure, we’re told that we can’t get rid of equipment that we no longer need or want, and that we have to preserve some of the modernization accounts, then the only place you can absorb the reduction is in operations, maintenance and training. And that is not an Army, a Navy, an Air Force, a Marine or a Coast Guard that I want to be part of. I’ve been part of that force, by the way, in the early ‘70s.
So I have said consistently that as we absorb the reductions we’ve absorbed, we – it’s a – it’s a – it’s an imperative that we are allowed to balance the reductions across all accounts. Now, when you pass the budget through the Congress of the United States, who, by the way, by the Constitution, are the organization charged with raising and sustaining the armed forces of the United States, they make other decisions. And I got that, and that’s their right by the Constitution. It’s my responsibility to point out that those choices have consequences.
So for this year’s budget, I predict that we probably won’t be able to balance the manpower account the way that we have to balance it, which means next year we’ll take another – we’ll take another swing at it. And we’ll – you know, the commitment I’ll make is we will try to do so in as equitable, fair, transparent, credible way we can. But we have to touch it.
One other point about health care: When I came in the Army in 1974, there was an expectation that I would have health care for life. There was. Well, I hope I do have health care for life, but there was an expectation that it would be free health care for life because there was – the Army was so big – when I came in the Army it was – the Army – 781,000. No, actually, when I came in there, it was just coming off of a million, a million-man active-component Army after Vietnam – conscript Army, though, not a volunteer Army, and a volunteer Army is more expensive. But the point is there were so many posts, camps and stations with hospitals around the country, you couldn’t find a place to retire where you wouldn’t be near a hospital.
OK, what happened? Well, we shrunk. We went to 781(,000), and about the middle of the ’80s we decided that wasn’t affordable, and so we went to a thing called CHAMPUS. Now, most of you are still too young to remember CHAMPUS. But CHAMPUS was the Civilian Health and Medical Program for the Uniformed Services. And it wasn’t free. That was the first time that we started paying into health care, in the mid-’80s. It’s a bit of a history lesson, but it’s worth knowing.
Into the ’90s, and all of a sudden, we’re shrunk again. Now we’re down to 495(,000) Army, 495,000. And the decision was TRICARE For Life, remember? TRICARE For Life was that at an affordable rate, you would be able to afford health care into perpetuity, a wonderful commitment that even when it was formed in the late ’90s was known, known to be unsustainable in an all-volunteer force with inflation projections. And we haven’t adjusted – we have not adjusted the enrollment fees in TRICARE since 1995. Now, think about what’s happened in the economy since 1995.
So look, I’m just giving you bare facts. And I – my commitment to you, with the senior leaders here present, is that we will figure this out. But we have to address health care. By the way, so does the nation have to address health care. The difference is I’ve got a budget, and I’m held accountable for it. (Laughter.)
Anyways, actually, thanks for asking, because I want people to know this is not me kind of taking a knife and slashing myself around here. This is me being given a budget and trying to find a way to manage it and pointing out the risk when we fail to do so.
OK, this side. Dun da dun dun. (Laughter.) I’m not going to have a voice when we’re done. (Inaudible.) Come on, give me a question, the hardest one you can think of.
Q: All right, sir, I have one for you.
GEN. DEMPSEY: You got it.
Q: Well, OK, sir, so to extend on Jimmy’s question on health care, one of the others is family programs. Each of the services have great family programs, but they’re not all the same, right? I’m – we’re – I’m a soldier on an air base. I support it. We’re at 650 airmen. Oftentimes our airmen there couldn’t get the same things our soldiers were because of differences in services. Do you see a move potentially as we – as we have budget issues or questions that there might be a move to where we have common standard across the joint force, regardless of your post, camp, station or base?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I – the question is – did y’all hear it – will we ever have a point where we have a common standard of family care across the joint force. Realistically, not on my watch. I say that because that’s a pretty big step. And incidentally, it’s a big step even for me personally and intellectually because I’m a huge fan of having five services. I count the Coast Guard. I’m a huge advocate of having five services with – each with a slightly – each with a common commitment, common values, but a slightly different culture. I’m an advocate of that because as the chairman, I actually enjoy the fact that when I get the service chiefs around, there’s diversity of thinking, you know. We’re not all – we’re not all “hoo-ah,” you know, “hoo-ah”. You know, you’re not all, “hoo-ah, hoo-ah.” What the hell does that mean? (Laughter.)
So – yeah, I know. (Laughter.) It means a lot of things, actually. It could mean, I agree with you. It could mean, go get screwed, you know. (Laughter.) And you’re never sure. (Laughter.) Or it could mean, yeah, I heard what you said; I’m going to go up and do whatever I want to do. (Laughter.) But the point is I value diversity of culture and thinking. I really do. And so I think I would not be an advocate of trying to turn everything into joint. That will – could that happen sometime down the road? Yeah, but not – it won’t happen anytime soon.
OK, so that’s not going to happen. What must happen? We’ve at least got to get our own services in order. So 10 years of relatively – maybe not relatively – 10 years of unconstrained resources. Really. If we needed it, we got it. Is that good? Hell, yeah. We’re at war. Bad habits, maybe? Sometimes. A thousand flowers blooming, you know.
If you – I mean, when I was the chief of staff of the Army, there were two areas where I had literally no idea, no idea of what was out there. One was information technology. I kind of knew what I invested in through the G-6 in terms of IT infrastructure, but Will Grimsley at Fort Hood, if he had a little extra cash, could set up another, you know, server farm or another enterprise, another – you know, I mean, so if you talk to Keith Alexander, he’s trying to manage, what, 17,000, I think, enclaves of information technology on the dot-mil domain. I mean, it’s crazy, really. And we’ll get it – that I will get fixed, with some help.
But the other area was truly family programs. And I’m a huge – look, I’m an advocate of family programs. But nobody really knows how many are out there and what they cost, and we really don’t know which ones are delivering the most important outcomes. So what I do predict for you is that internal to the services – but I do mean internal to the services – they will have to rack and stack them at some point. You know, let’s say there’s a hundred of them. They’ll go one to a hundred, and then – and I – you know, my approach when I was chief would be to find out which ones mattered most to you and then to make sure we resourced those. But the chances of numbers 95 through a hundred getting resources are probably pretty slim. And we’ve got to do that, because we’ve just – we just allowed this to be so decentralized that frankly, we don’t even know what’s out there.
Q: Sir, I’ve got a question for you.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, Sergeant Major.
Q: Sir, after you got confirmed to be the 18th chief – I mean the 18th chairman, one of the first acts you did was reinstate the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman. Can you tell us why you did that and why it was important to you to do?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I sure can. Well, look, I’m in the Army because of my first platoon sergeant, you know. I mean, you show up as a brand new second lieutenant – and it was in the post-Vietnam era, so I was the – I was the slick sleeve, you know. I was the 22-year-old with no combat experience trying to lead a platoon with combat experience, and a little cynicism thrown in to boot in 1974. And the platoon sergeant became my battle buddy, and I learned from him and grew with him. And it occurred to me that becoming the chairman is a little bit like becoming a second lieutenant again, really. I mean – you know, I mean, I hate to admit this on camera, but what in the world would prepare you to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? The answer is probably nothing, actually. I mean, you’ve got to be good-looking. I knew that. (Laughter.) You have to be able to sing on occasion. (Laughter.) You’ve got to have a sense of humor and thick skin. But I wanted a battle buddy. So that was kind of motivation number one.
The second thing was – to link it back to what we just talked about, I have got to stay in touch, not just with the officer corps, but with the noncommissioned officer Corps, the warrant officer corps and individual soldiers, and who better to do that than a noncommissioned officer? And the third thing is, you know, the noncommissioned officer corps of today is not the noncommissioned officer corps that I knew in 1974. It’s just not. I mean, I could give you vignettes about noncommissioned officers who were not helping us maintain the discipline of the force; they were actually contributing to the – to undermining the discipline of the force.
And so today what we’ve got is we’ve got noncommissioned officers who take responsibility, who are far better educated, who are just as committed as any other part of this enterprise, and I wanted one to be my battle buddy. So that is – and I – we don’t travel much; I hardly ever see the guy, actually. But he’s out and about. He’s over in Afghanistan right now, and he’s – you know, he’s out and about. You know, he’s contacting you all, finding out – and you know something? And he is not bashful. He’s a Marine, you know.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hoo-ah.
GEN. DEMPSEY: And he’ll come back and say, I don’t know what you were thinking with that one, sir; but, boy, that was a swing and a miss. (Laughter.) And then – and then we’ll try to – you know, we’ll try to get it – get it right.
So, you know, I just think the challenges ahead require us to come together at whatever rank we are, and he’s certainly a big part of my life in helping that happen.
Anybody want to ask my wife a question, by the way?
STAFF: Probably have time for one more.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Why in the heck did you marry him? (Laughter.)
STAFF: Chairman, we probably have time for maybe one more. We have to check the time.
GEN. DEMPSEY: How am I doing on time?
STAFF: Five minutes, sir.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Five minutes.
STAFF: There you go.
GEN. DEMPSEY: So that’s either two short or one long question.
Now, come on. How many times you get a shot at the chairman?
Q: Sir, Major Gordon McCloud, STRATCOM, J5.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: Quick question is, what or whom do you view as our – as the greatest threat to our national security and why?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, you know, I try not to pin myself or the country down in that regard. You know, my predecessor famously said that the economy was the greatest threat to national security. Is the economy a threat to security? Sure. Remember what I said: Power is the economy, military and diplomatic.
Certainly we still – we live today under the threat of global terrorism – today, every day. Every day there’s intel to suggest that someone is plotting, and every day we do something about it. Cyber is the – is the – probably the threat least known, most ignored. You know, it’s kind of like, oh, boy, I don’t want to look over there at it. And eventually – not right today, but eventually – that could be the most catastrophic. And then of course, the little portfolio that STRATCOM has, the piece of the portfolio that has the initials N-U-C-L-E-A-R – (laughter) – are troubling, a little bit, you know, given that that’s the one capability that could literally alter our way of life and take massive casualties. And it’s not – the problem I’ve got with – that we have with nuclear is its proliferation. You know, if there’s – the rational nation-states are less likely, thank God, to engage in that conduct, although we have to deter each other. It’s the – it’s, in some cases, the – let’s call it the middle-weight powers that are achieving that capability, and the fact that they may proliferate the technology. So, you know, I can’t ignore any of that.
Each and every one of those has to be part of the vocabulary, and that’s why I can’t – I really – I avoid oftentimes the words, “greatest threat.” It’s kind of quilt or a mosaic of threats that, for me, adds up to something I call the security paradox. So there hasn’t been a world war in a long time, and so everybody says, whew! You know, we ought to feel pretty safe. Yeah, unless you know what else is out there.
So we’ve got this kind of security paradox. And you don’t want to be Chicken Little about it. You got to be – you got to be measured, you got to be rational, you got to provide options, you got to – you’ve got to continue to refresh your understanding of it. That’s what it is.
I’m out of airspeed and altitude?
GEN. DEMPSEY: OK, let me – let me do this. I apologize that I – that I can’t spend more time with you. Maybe I’ll leave Deanie here, and she can keep answering questions. (Laughter.) In fact, we’re married 36 years. So she’s – you know, she’s led the three kids’ commission. I had my daughter and son in Iraq with me on and off. I had my son and – and we’ve just been in and out – in and out of the theater.
I – we both thank you for your service, and your perseverance through a pretty tough time. I will say this, in closing. You know, people say, my God, how could you possibly, you know, want to be the chairman at a time like this? You know, hitting these security challenges, declining budget, you know, really tough political environment. You know, it’s just – and I said, you know what? When I came in the military, I came in because I wanted to make a difference, and I – you know, I wanted to be able to – when I left the military, I wanted to be able to say, you know what? I ran – I ran through the finish line, you know, ran through the tape.
Well, if you ever wanted to do that, if you ever wanted to serve when it really mattered – you know, some people come in, just – look, there’s a handful – only a handful that come in – it’s a job; you know, it’s a way to make a living. But most of us come in because we’re committed to the profession, and you really want to make a difference.
Well, here’s my message. If you ever, ever wanted to serve when it made a difference, you have arrived. It makes a difference.
Thanks very much. God bless you. (Applause.)