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Dempsey Fields Questions at Pensacola Town Hall

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2012 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff fielded questions yesterday during a town hall meeting at Naval Air Station Pensacola on everything from the defense strategy and budget to the future force, the challenges of military families and the evolution of homeland defense.

At the northwest-Florida air station called the “cradle of naval aviation,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and his wife, Deanie, visited the Naval Education and Training Command, Training Air Wing 6, the Air Force 479th Flying Training Group and the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

After touring the museum, Dempsey presented his command coin to nine service members from commands on the air station and held a town hall in the museum atrium, where he described to students, staff and family members how defense officials crafted the strategy designed to take the military services into 2020.

President Barack Obama “asked the Department of Defense, notably [Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta] and me, to try to help him figure out how the military can contribute to solving … the nation’s economic crisis,” the chairman said.

With that in mind, department officials are working to absorb $487 billion in budget cuts over 10 years while rebalancing its interests, intellectual bandwidth and in some cases resources, he said.

The new strategy, Dempsey added, also calls on the department to continue balancing manpower costs, modernization and equipment, training and maintenance, and operations and infrastructure, all with a volunteer force.

“You’ve heard all of us -- the president, the secretary of defense, me and other senior leaders -- talk about keeping faith with you,” he said.

“Keeping faith is not just about money in your pocket. [It] is also about making sure you remain the best trained, the best led and the best-equipped force on the face of the planet,” the chairman said.

“Deanie and I couldn’t be prouder of your service,” he said.

“What you’ve accomplished over the last 10 years I would describe as even more impressive because we’ve asked you to do it on a cycle that frankly I didn’t think we could sustain back in 2001,” Dempsey added. “[But] here we are 11 years later and we’re still sustaining it and doing a lot of good.”

Dempsey took a range of questions from the audience, beginning with one about how the department is approaching potentially dangerous situations, such as those looming in the Middle East.

“What we say now in our new strategy … is that we have to be able to do at least three things at a time [rather than two as dictated by the outdated two-war construct], and here’s why,” he said.

“If there is some kind of conflict in the Pacific or North Korea, if there is some kind of conflict in the [Persian] Gulf, we know for a fact in the 21st century that it will bleed over, asymmetrically probably, into the homeland.”

Technologies that have evolved over the past 10 years will help, he said, including the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems called ISR, along with increasingly capable special operating forces and cyber.

“The question now for us becomes how do we integrate those new emerging capabilities with a dominant conventional force to make ourselves … more able to deal with more than one thing at a time,” Dempsey said. “And I’m promising you, we’re going to be able to do this,” he added.

From service members and spouses in the audience, Dempsey heard about a problem with parental rights during child custody or divorce cases in which courts have viewed service members as unstable because of multiple deployments.

Dempsey and his wife said they had taken questions about this situation twice in two days.

“I wish I had an answer,” he said. “I can tell you that now you have someone who’s going to be interested in [the problem], but I don’t know where we are. I don’t know who wakes up in the morning believing it’s their responsibility to fight through this with you, but I’m going to get your name and we’ll be back in touch with you.”

The chairman said he also would put the question out on his CJCS Facebook page to gauge the scope of the problem.

Another question involved the price of child care for military families, which often is based on the total of salaries of the service member and the spouse, a woman in the audience said, and military spouses often don’t make enough money to justify the cost of daycare.

Dempsey asked the garrison commander to research the question specifically at NAS-Pensacola, and Mrs. Dempsey promised to take the question back to Washington for further examination.

The chairman also answered questions about unmanned aerial vehicles and their increasing use in the services.

The ratio of unmanned-to-piloted vehicles probably will rise along the path to 2020, Dempsey said, adding that decisions to use such vehicles “are taken at the highest levels.” He said he is confident the department has a legal and ethical basis for their use.

Despite the challenges of a tightening fiscal environment, the chairman said, the United States is and will remain a global power.

“America does a lot of good around the world and provides stability for economic development and access and free markets and all the things that we stand for,” he said. “So we have to remain a global power, sometimes reluctantly.”

To do so “we have to balance ourselves, but make sure we keep the capability to do whatever the world presents us,” Dempsey said. “Sometimes it will present us [with] messy conflicts on land and among populations. Other times there will be issues we can resolve with higher technology.

“We’ve got to be able to do both,” he added, “and my commitment to you all is that we will remain capable of the full spectrum -- from peace … to nuclear deterrence -- and we won’t let that erode.”

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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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