FORT HOOD, Texas —
With less than 100 days remaining in his final term as the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, spent a full day here interacting with Soldiers and their Families, and thanking them for their service and sacrifice, June 19.
Dempsey, along with his wife, Deanie, attended a change of command ceremony at the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. Dempsey was the 65th commander of the regiment, 1996-1998, at Fort Carson, Colorado.
He and Deanie joined junior noncommissioned officers and their spouses for lunch at a dining facility, and hosted two town hall sessions, one for senior leaders and another with Soldiers and their Families. At both town hall sessions, Dempsey said it was important to get out and interact with service members and their Families, but each session held patently different conversations.
During the leadership town hall at Palmer Theater, Dempsey spoke about leadership, current threats and balancing the force.
Two years ago, the chairman said, the world changed as the U.S. faced two markedly different types of threats -- state threats from Russia, China, Iran and the Republic of North Korea; as well as the threat from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which Dempsey noted as a "movement" that is building from non-state actors.
"The two challenges are very different," he said. "You can't take a template when dealing with a state actor such as Russia and apply it to a non-state actor. They are not interchangeable."
The chairman described the state threats as deterrence, degradation and defeat challenges. Addressing the threats from ISIL and other non-state actors, he said, is about how to influence them.
"It's a different challenge and it requires a different approach and different capabilities," Dempsey said.
What is common to all threats is the service members who will be called upon to address those challenges, he said. While Russia and other state threats must be taken seriously and must be deterred from escalating, ISIL will be a long-term, ongoing threat that will require maintaining pressure.
"You will have to do both," Dempsey told the Soldiers at Palmer. "The country needs you more than it did 15 years ago."
The chairman also imparted some leadership advice. He told the leaders that they must exhibit expertise in their jobs, maintain humility to encourage building relationships with their peers, subordinates, commanders, allies, and have not only physical, but also moral courage.
"Build relationships so you trust each other. A foundation of trust must be there at all times," Dempsey said. "I want every single one of you to be ambitious, but also be humble."
Following his remarks, Dempsey fielded questions from the officers and senior NCOs in the room. When asked about sequestration, Dempsey said he sees the threat continuing for now, and through the next presidential election, but one that will not directly affect worldwide missions.
"It won't affect operational readiness," he said. "It could affect training."
About Iraq and how to handle the escalating situation in the area, Dempsey said that the questions of if the nation can be put together and how any U.S. efforts would help need to be addressed.
"We should ask ourselves, 'Would the effort help?'" he said.
The chairman said he is uncertain about what exactly is going to happen with the threats going forward, but the services must maintain their stance and balance to be prepared.
"I don't know what is going to happen," Dempsey said, "but it's going to happen quicker than we all think."
Even with all of its ongoing challenges, the U.S. remains the pre-eminent power in the world, the chairman said. He said it is the "dash" that makes America different, the integration of different groups of people who "generally aspire to live together" with diversity.
"Diversity is our greatest strength because it reflects America," Dempsey said.
Following his session with leaders, the chairman met with Soldiers and Families for another town hall at Howze Auditorium, where he reiterated his and his spouse's thanks and desire to hear from the Army Family.
"We came here to thank you for your service," Dempsey said, noting that service is a team effort. "I love to hear what's on your mind."
Dempsey responded to questions about his role as chairman, access to medical care at Fort Hood, policy changes the sharing of behavioral health information, rotations to Korea, housing, Iraq and changes at the commissaries.
"Health care is the hardest thing we do," Dempsey said in reply to the query about speeding access to care. "I am seeing a system trying to adjust and we've got a long way to go."
The chairman said the motivation behind the rotations to Korea is to "put the Army on a common footing and introduce a level of predictability" to Soldiers and their Families.
He also received more questions about the way ahead with Iraq. Dempsey noted the goal in Iraq is to empower the Iraqis.
"We do have national interests there," he said. "We are trying to help and enable them to deal with what they have to deal with. We are not trying to reclaim ownership of Iraq's problems."
Domestically within the force, Dempsey said he would like to see a restored interest in education, an area that he said was set aside in large part, 2003-2010, because of deployments.
"Education is our foundation," he said.
He also said the one positive outcome of the budgetary uncertainty has been the efforts to balance the force.
"We've had to really take a hard look at balance among the active and reserve components," Dempsey said.
As the rebalancing efforts continue, Dempsey said there will be some changes.
"You will see some infrastructure reductions," he said, "but we will not lose capabilities."