Budget, Strategy Dominate Dempsey’s Facebook Town Hall
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2014 In the second town hall meeting he has conducted on his Facebook page, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff fielded questions from around the world yesterday that focused largely on the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2015 budget request and its correlation with U.S. military strategy.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducts his second Facebook town hall meeting in his Pentagon office, March 13, 2014. The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2015 budget request was a prominent topic in the chairman’s social media discussion. DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Hilton
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey had joined Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Capitol Hill to testify on the budget request earlier in the day before returning to his office in the Pentagon’s “E” ring for the 40-minute social media session.
“This budget is a pragmatic way forward that balances as best as it can, our national security and fiscal responsibilities,” the chairman said during the Facebook session. “It provides the tools for today’s force to accomplish the missions we’ve been assigned — rebuilding readiness in areas that were – by necessity – de-emphasized over the past decade.”
The budget request also provides the underpinning to modernize the force for the challenges of the future, he said. It ensures “that we’re globally networked and that we can continue to provide options for the nation,” he said, “and it reflects – in real terms – how we’re reducing our costs of doing business and working to ensure that the force is in the right balance.”
But the budget request also reflects tough choices for the military, the general acknowledged, including cuts in force structure. The Army, he noted, would reduce in size to 440,000 to 450,000 active duty soldiers. At that level, the Army will be able to meet its mission with some increased risk, Dempsey said. “Below that level,” he added, “the risk becomes significant.”
If Congress supports the request and continues that support after fiscal 2015, Dempsey said, “we will remain the world’s finest military — modern, capable and ready, even while transitioning to a smaller and more affordable force over time,” he said. “However, as I said last year, we need time, we need certainty, and we need flexibility to balance the institution to allow us to meet the nation’s needs for the future.”
The chairman also received questions about the post-2014 mission in Afghanistan. Dempsey returned last week from a trip to the country to get first-hand appraisals from troops and commanders.
“The principal reason for us to remain post-2014 is to maintain pressure on al-Qaida,” the chairman said in answer to the questions. “We’ve got to do this not just in Afghanistan, but wherever they are, either directly or through partners. It’s also important to support the Afghan National Security Force to continue to develop and be a stabilizing influence for their country.”
A total U.S. and NATO withdrawal from the country would risk Afghanistan’s isolation – again, the chairman noted. “Having come out of a decade or more isolation imposed by the Taliban’s ideology and inward focus, the risk would be that Afghanistan would regress and become a safe haven for al-Qaida and other terrorist networks,” he said.
The bilateral security agreement negotiated between the United States and Afghanistan would allow U.S., NATO and partner nation service members to remain in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist security forces. President Barack Obama recently directed the military to begin planning for a full withdrawal by year’s end in light of the possibility that no BSA, as the agreement is known, would be in place. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has thus far refused to sign it, though it was approved by a national council of Afghan elders and community leaders.
Dempsey addressed the notion that the United States does not need the agreement to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
“I’ve noted that we need the BSA for more than legal protections,” he said. “We need it as a demonstrated commitment by Afghanistan that we are partnered with them for specific purposes and that we are not considered occupiers in their country post-2014. It’s the commitment to the partnership that we need. Only with that commitment will our forces be protected in every sense of the word.”
The prospect of changes to military retirement remains a hot-button issue for service members. The chairman reassured his questioners that the fiscal 2015 budget request does not propose any changes to the current retirement system.
“However, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission is taking a holistic look at our current retirement system,” the chairman said. “Their proposals are due in February 2015.”
No matter what the commission recommends, the chairman said, Defense Department leaders “will continue to recommend that if there are any future changes to retirement, those who are already serving must be grandfathered in the current program.”
Ethical lapses, misconduct, criminal behavior – all have the chairman’s full attention, Dempsey told the Facebook town hall meeting participants. “The Joint Chiefs and I are committed to making sure our military leaders of all ranks uphold the trust we've earned within our ranks and with the American people,” he said, and he stressed that the overwhelming majority of service members uphold the best traditions of American and the military.
“There will always be a few who let down the team and the nation,” he added. “When they do, we hold them accountable.”
The military is working on a variety of initiatives ranging from training and education to 360-degree assessments to help prevent and mitigate problems, he said. “Ultimately, we must ensure the character, competence and culture of our force meets the high standards that the American people — and our men and women in uniform — expect and deserve,” he said.
One questioner asked the chairman about Joint Force 2020, a concept that stresses the military’s agility and flexibility as the United States faces unclear and unknown threats in the future. It has been one of Dempsey’s key themes since he took office in 2011.
“I can confidently say that in 2020 we will still be the most powerful military in the world if we continue with the strategy as we have laid it out in the Quadrennial Defense Review,” the chairman said. “We must achieve the right balance between capacity, capability, and readiness to remain successful. Budget constraints have forced us to accept more risks – risks which we believe we can manage at this level.”
Again, the chairman said, if sequester-level cuts return in fiscal 2016 “then the risks will grow, and the options we can provide the nation will dramatically shrink. That’s a gamble none of us should be willing to take.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)