Know Your Military

Senior Officers Must Lead Change in Uncertain World, Dunford Says

June 13, 2019 | BY Jim Garamone

In an uncertain world, senior officers must be the leaders of change in the profession of arms, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the graduation ceremony for the National Defense University Class of 2019.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said today that this is the most dynamic and complex security environment he has seen. He checked off a few examples just in the last year as proof: Venezuela, the Middle East, the India-Pakistan border, the Sea of Azov, bilateral trade tensions, Korea, across Asia and across Africa.

A general raises his hand while standing and speaking into a microphone.
Hand Raise
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at the National Defense University graduation at Fort McNair in Washington, June 13, 2019. The NDU Class of 2019 consists of leaders from the U.S. military services, the Defense Department and other federal government agencies, as well as from allied and partner nations.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro, DOD
VIRIN: 190613-D-PB383-029

"You are going to lead change in that context, and the situation is unlikely to become less complicated on your watch," Dunford said. "You are also going to lead in an era with an unprecedented rate of change in our profession and in the character of war."

There will be no substitute for leaders that take action to effect change."
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

History is rife with leaders who failed to grasp change, he said. Leaders before World War I failed to see what the changes in weapon lethality would mean. More than 10 million service members died for that failure. In World War II, western armies failed to see the potential of the air/ground force. "There are many more examples of brilliant people with big ideas that were ignored," the chairman said. "Most of the changes that took place occurred in the wake of failure."

All this is not just something from the past, Dunford said. He told the graduates that he once read a paper talking about the danger posed by homemade bombs to ground vehicles. The paper's author even pointed to a promising solution to the problem when he wrote it in 1996, "and we didn’t accept the value of his thinking until 2006," he said. "Not until we had paid a very high price in casualties and impacts on our operational effectiveness."

A general speaks at a podium in front of three flags.
Dunford Speaks
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at the National Defense University graduation at Fort McNair in Washington, June 13, 2019. The NDU Class of 2019 consists of leaders from the U.S. military services, the Defense Department and other federal government agencies, as well as from allied and partner nations.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro, DOD
VIRIN: 190613-D-PB383-014E
Rows of seated service members applaud.
Audience Applause
Audience members respond as Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at the National Defense University graduation at Fort McNair in Washington, June 13, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro, DOD
VIRIN: 190613-D-PB383-016

Strategy and tactics have changed and will continue to evolve, the chairman said. The old paradigm of regional conflicts limited to land, sea and air domains is broken, Dunford said, and any conflict today would quickly encompass all domains and across all regions. Soon, "we will be confronted by further challenges driven by developments in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, hypersonics [and] space-based capabilities, not to mention the developments we can't even imagine yet," he said.

"At the end of the day, we are not going to be defined by hypersonics, artificial intelligence, fifth-generation aircraft, space or cyber capabilities. ... [T]he foundation of our success will continue to be men and women who embody our core values."
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

All this drives the need for leading change. "There will be no substitute for leadership that encourages critical thinking," Dunford said. "There will be no substitute for leaders that recognize the implications of new ideas, new approaches and new technologies. There will be no substitute for leaders that take action to effect change."

There is also no substitute for people. He told the graduates he had just returned from paying tribute to the veterans who landed at Normandy and changed the face of World War II. No matter what the technologies were at the time, the chairman said, the war still required young Allied soldiers to cross those beaches and engage the enemy.

A general is framed by stacks of diplomas.
Defense Diplomas
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks at the National Defense University graduation at Fort McNair in Washington, June 13, 2019. The NDU Class of 2019 consists of leaders from the U.S. military services, the Defense Department and other federal government agencies, as well as from allied and partner nations.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro, DOD
VIRIN: 190613-D-PB383-018E

The same is true today, Dunford said. "Because the fundamental nature of war hasn't changed, neither have the primary factors that lead to success on the modern battlefield," he said. "Aside from an ability to adapt over the past 18 years, any tactical successes we've had in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have been because of the endurance, courage and commitment of individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civil servants from the United States and our international partners.

"At the end of the day, we are not going to be defined by hypersonics, artificial intelligence, fifth-generation aircraft, space or cyber capabilities," Dunford said. "We will need that to be successful ... but the foundation of our success will continue to be men and women who embody our core values - men and women with the will and courage to endure and prevail, and leaders with the ability to inspire excellence and an unrelenting desire to win."