Chairman: Transition is Military’s Task at Hand
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2011 Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said today his job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will center on leading transitions: from war to readiness, from bigger to smaller budgets, and from uniformed service members to veterans.
Speaking to an audience of several hundred at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting here, the chairman emphasized that while transition already is beginning, the nation still is at war. Current conflicts developed over years, he added, and will not end quickly.
Dempsey noted today is the 11th anniversary of the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen’s port of Aden, during which 17 U.S. sailors were killed and 39 others were injured when an al-Qaida suicide bomber in a small boat set off explosives near the ship.
“At the time, it appeared to be kind of a one-off attack,” Dempsey said, noting that only in hindsight did the Cole bombing appear as part of a continuum including the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the 9/11 attacks and attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2003.
“It took us about a decade to realize we were at war,” the chairman said. “Make no mistake about it, it will take us about a decade … to overcome that challenge.”
America’s military success is based in part on trust, Dempsey said. He displayed on the room’s large screens the image of a squad leader, speaking on a radio in the middle of combat in Afghanistan.
“The squad leader -- you can tell by his eyes -- is going through the conflicting emotions of courage and fear, confidence and uncertainty,” the chairman said.
The soldier is calling for something he needs, perhaps medical evacuation, close air support, guidance or any number of other capabilities, Dempsey said.
“Here’s what sets us apart: he knows he’s going to get it,” the general said. “In this country, when we send our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to war, if they need something, they’re going to get it.”
Whatever challenges lie ahead, the chairman said, the nation and the military cannot afford to break that “sacred bond of trust.”
“I say ‘afford’ because it really comes down to the resources the nation will commit to supplying to its men and women in uniform,” he said.
As combat levels keep declining and more troops leave the military, veterans’ issues, including medical care and employment, will become more challenging, Dempsey said.
“We will reach out to partners and stakeholders across the government and in industry to try to help with that transition,” he added.
Dempsey said reducing the defense budget is not a new phenomenon. “We’ve been down this road before,” he said. “We’ll go back again. It’s our responsibility to articulate the opportunities and the risks, to manage those risks, and to provide our nation’s leaders and our fellow citizens with as many options as possible.”
Those transitions are “the task at hand,” the chairman said. The existing and potential partnerships linking service members, civilians, the Defense Department, other government agencies and the nation as a whole make him confident “we’re going to be OK,” he added.
“We’ll do it,” he said. “We’ll figure it out together.”