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Chairman Notes Transition Challenges in Years Ahead

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2012 – As the U.S. military faces a constrained budget environment in the years ahead, it will build on experience gained in expansions and contractions throughout its history, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses the impact of budget cuts on the Defense Department at the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C., Feb. 1, 2012. DOD photo by D. Myles Cullen

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the audience at a Reserve Officers Association national security symposium that change is nothing new for the nation’s armed forces.

However, he noted, all but the most senior service members have known only a military that has been growing -- one that always has had all of the resources it could possibly need, and in some cases even more than needed.

“Well, that’s going to change here,” Dempsey said.

The new economic reality means less money will be available for defense, the chairman added, but he expressed confidence that the military will remain strong. “We will figure it out if we can maintain our sense of trust with each other,” he said.

Dempsey cited Air Force Master Sgt. Roger Sparks of the Alaska Air National Guard as an example. Sparks rescued 12 soldiers off the side of a mountain in the Hindu Kush area of Afghanistan. Under tremendous fire, he lowered himself via cable from a helicopter 12 times to rescue the soldiers. Twice, the cable was hit by gunfire. Eight soldiers survived, and four died in the sergeant’s arms, Dempsey said.

“I asked him, ‘What were you thinking of when you lowered yourself time after time after time?’” the general said. “And he told me, ‘Truthfully, I didn’t have time to think about it. I just knew they really needed me.’”

That sort of trust and sacrifice is who people are in the military, Dempsey said.

“And as we go through changes – changes in strategy, changes in resourcing, changes in structure, missioning, remissioning, expansion, contraction – as long as we keep [the attitude Sparks demonstrated], we’ll be all right,” he added.

The chairman said he faces three principal transitions during his term as the military’s top officer. The first, he said, will be as the United States transitions from war to peace.

“The surge, counterinsurgency, that will all be transitioned over to the responsibility of the Afghans,” he said. “They want it, we want it, that’s the way these things end, and we’ve got to get there on my watch.”

That means a military that has deployed frequently for 10 years will deploy at a much reduced level, the chairman said, and deployments will be for training, and not for combat.

“So the mindset of our youngsters will have to adapt to that,” Dempsey said. “They will have to understand what it will be like to be in a military that trains to fight as hard as it has fought. We can’t underestimate how challenging that transition will be for a generation.”

Second, Dempsey said, he will be the chairman as military budgets reduce. “We will have to figure out how we operate with less resources than we had before,” he said. And meanwhile, he added, people should just get to work. He quoted retired Army Gen. Fred Franks, who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War: “It’s literally impossible to wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time.”

Finally, many soldiers and Marines will transition to civilian life, Dempsey noted, because the force will get smaller. Some will move into the reserve components. Others will go straight to civilian life. In either case, he said, the military needs figure how to keep the right people in the right numbers to maintain itself.

“Right now, we’re focused on ‘What’s our force structure going to be? What’s our budget going to be?’” Dempsey said. “But pretty quickly, we are going to have to focus on ‘How do we do it?’ We need to do what’s right for the nation, our institutions and the individuals.”

A long-range budgeting plan is essential for the military, Dempsey said, likening incremental budgeting to “death by a thousand cuts.” Defense leaders have looked ahead to fiscal 2020 in seeking to build a joint force the nation will need in that year, he said.

Dempsey said that the military will keep faith with those serving and who have served, but he emphasized it is about more than just money.

“We keep faith with the men and women who serve if we make sure they are disciplined, if we make sure they are well-trained, if we make sure they are well-equipped,” he said.

“In some circles,” he continued, “it is only tied to how much money we get to them. That’s part of it, of course, but never forget that when someone says you have to keep faith with service members, it also means keeping faith with them to make sure they are the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped force on the face of the planet.”


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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses the impact of budget cuts on the Defense Department at the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C., Feb. 1, 2012. DOD photo by D. Myles Cullen   
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