SEOUL, South Korea —
In his first two-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey hasn’t blinked when facing challenges that would make some men quit – the Iraq withdrawal, the Afghan surge, the sexual assault epidemic, green-on-blue killings in Afghanistan, sequestration, Benghazi, the Arab Spring, the Syrian War, a colder relationship with the Russians. And it goes on day after day after day.
The chairman began his second two-year term today.
But he, and his wife Deanie, will make it through the second two-year term. He is in South Korea discussing the 31-year-old communist dictator that rules North Korea.
And the challenges elsewhere will pile up – the arguments over the East and South China Sea, trying to cajole allies to see the wisdom of your ways. Some challenges he will expect, but other will crop up and he will have to deal with them along with all the things he has to do.
And now the money that was there when he first took office is gone. In fact, instead of finding just $487 billion in savings in the defense budget, he needs to find an additional $500 billion – forcing a $1 trillion cut to defense.
And add that to the fact that the U.S. government just closed.
When he started his first term as chairman he issued four priorities. The first was to achieve the national objectives that the military forces had — Iraq and Afghanistan, deterrence in the Persian Gulf and so on.
Second was to build Joint Force 2020 which was a look to the future to build the capabilities we will need in the future and not just today.
The other two priorities dealt with the profession of arms. “It occurred to me that after 10 years we needed to take a look at the values to which we claim to live to determine whether the personnel policies, training, deployment, all of that was contributing to our sense of professionalism or whether we had some points of friction,” he said during an interview here.
His final priority was keeping faith with the military family. Dempsey is an Armor officer by trade, and an English professor by heart and he is choosy about his words. “I chose family not families, because it’s not just spouses and children; it’s about veterans and it’s about the many, many young men and women who will transition out of the military under my watch,” he said.
These priorities will remain the same, he told reporters traveling with him. “But what I’ve learned over the past two years is where I have to establish some initiatives, some milestones, some programs and processes to achieve progress in those areas over the time remaining to me.”
He notes it is a much different budgetary and fiscal environment than when he started. In fact, it’s twice as bad. “It was $487 billion when I started, and now it’s a trillion-dollar challenge,” Dempsey said.
“Expectations about levels of support, the pace of training the pace of deployments are all going to change in the next couple of years, and I have to make sure the force adapts to that,” he said.
“We’re going to transition 100,000-plus out of the military, and I have to make sure those young men and women are ready for that change,” Dempsey said. “I have to slow the growth of pay and health care – I don’t have to reduce it – I have to slow the growth [and] make it sustainable.”
“And I’ve got to reshape the force both in size and capability, and we’ve got [to] renew our sense of professionalism because it is through that, that we’ll get through this incredible uncertainty,” he said.
Dempsey is most worried about uncertainty in the force and what that is doing to the military family. “Now, we are far more adaptable than we are given credit for,” he said. “There’s this notion of the cumbersome military bureaucracy. Some is true, but there is also underneath the Pentagon an incredible group of young men and women leaders who change as they need to change to address the challenges as they find them. And they will continue to do that.”