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Admiral Discusses Need to Bridge U.S. Military-Civilian Divide

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2013 – Service members must not be afraid to reach out to their fellow citizens, the Navy’s chief of information said at the Defense One Summit here yesterday.

Rear Adm. John Kirby discussed what he sees as a growing civilian-military divide and its ramifications with Al Jazeera’s Jamie Tarabay.

“I think it is important that those of us in uniform stay apolitical -- certainly politically aloof,” Kirby said. “But I also think it is critical that we stay politically astute.”

Those in the military need to understand the political environment, because political leaders are the ones making the decisions, he said.

“Politics can be messy, and it can be ugly at times, and for those of us who have grown up in uniform, it’s almost in some ways foreign,” the admiral said. “What I worry about is that it becomes too easy for us to turn away from that and say, ‘Well, it’s beneath us.’”

But politics cannot be beneath military personnel, Kirby said.

“It’s actually above us,” he added. “Those are the people making the decisions that we’re going to have to execute.”

Understanding where politicians come from and being open to the discussion is crucial to bridging the civilian-military divide, Kirby said.

“It’s part of the democratic system -- the system that we defend,” he said. “I just worry that it is too easy for us to walk away from that [and] to think we’re apart from it, or some of us think we’re better than that. And that’s a dangerous place for us to be.”

The nature of the military almost encourages this divide, he acknowledged. First, with an all-volunteer force, fewer and fewer Americans have first-hand knowledge of the military. Those who do serve often live on bases with little contact with the surrounding communities. Another aspect, Kirby said, is that it’s the children of service members -- who grew up in the military culture -- who have the propensity to serve.

The military may understand the communities outside the combat outposts in the Middle East and Central Asia better than in the United States, the admiral said.

“We spend a lot of time -- particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan -- learning foreign languages, learning the culture,” he said. “I don’t know if we spend enough time learning about the American people we serve. Now is the time, … as our budgetary needs don’t lessen and the world doesn’t get any safer, for us to listen more to the American people and engage more.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)


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Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby

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