Chairman: Asia-Pacific Will Challenge Military Leaders
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT , June 6, 2012 – Creating thinking, adaptable leaders not only within U.S. forces but also with partner nations’ militaries is key to maintaining readiness against future threats, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Returning from a weeklong visit to the Asia-Pacific that took him to Hawaii, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told American Forces Press Service the U.S. military’s leader development system is something partner and allies’ forces are eager to take part in.
“I would assert that the armed forces of the United States have the finest leaders in the world,” he said. “And they have the finest leaders in the world because of the way we train them and educate them, first and foremost.”
The second part of that equation is the professional attitude the military requires of its leaders, Dempsey said. More than a job, uniformed service is a calling, he added.
Thirdly, the chairman said, “We place them into situations -- over the last 10 years, those situations were called combat -- of uncertainty [and] complexity, where they’re uncomfortable. And we allow them to grow by confronting those challenges and problems, which makes them better leaders.”
With operations concluded in Iraq and the Afghanistan mission transitioning away from combat, Dempsey said, the majority of the force over the next few years will be back in the business of preparing for war, rather than fighting.
That means the military must find new challenges to sharpen its leaders, he said, and rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific provides them.
“The opportunity that exists in the Asia-Pacific for us is to deploy small groups or individuals into unfamiliar circumstances with new partners, new cultures, new complexities, and encourage [leaders] -- and actually require them -- to confront them,” he said. “So they continue to grow. And to the extent that they continue to grow, they will be prepared for this uncertain future that we continue to talk about.”
The chairman has repeatedly spoken of what he refers to as a security paradox: while the world overall is more peaceful than through much of its history, threats of both traditional and cyber-based attacks can now emanate from small groups or individuals as well as nations.
Putting leaders in circumstances they haven’t faced before, with partners they’ve never worked with to confront common challenges, Dempsey said, will ensure the military is prepared for that wide range of possible threats.
The chairman noted today’s military leaders must also work effectively with counterparts across government.
“Since 2001, if we haven’t learned that national power is the aggregate of diplomatic, information, military and economic power, then we’ve been asleep at the switch,” he said. “And we’re not asleep at the switch.”
Dempsey said he was probably a lieutenant colonel with 22 years in service before he met anyone from the Department of State, and had completed around 26 years in uniform before he had any contact with U.S. Agency for International Development staffers.
“In today’s military, every ensign or lieutenant, every master sergeant or master chief, had had some contact with some other agency of government, because we’re all in this thing together,” he said.
When Defense Department leaders developed the strategy rebalancing forces to the Pacific, they shared it with the interagency, Dempsey said.
“We actually briefed it at a National Security Council meeting, so that everybody understood what we were doing and everybody understood the opportunities that it would provide them,” he added.
The military coordinates all its actions in the Asia-Pacific region through the U.S. Embassies there, the chairman said. “We don’t do anything in the region without the concurrence and support of ambassadors,” he said. “So it’s already a whole-of-government approach, [and] I think that in the future it will become increasingly so.”
With effective collaboration across government, U.S. efforts in the region can achieve more than individual components acting alone can, he said.
“We’re committed to doing that, and I think it makes us a little more coherent and understandable to our partners, as well,” the chairman added.
Today’s military leaders, skilled in interagency cooperation and used to working effectively across the services, can bring a pattern of thinking to bear in Asia-Pacific operations that can benefit partner forces, Dempsey said.
“As we confront something in the future that we simply can’t predict, we’ve got leaders with the intellect, the energy, the flexibility, the adaptability to deal with it,” he said. “[Our partners are] really eager to do that as well.”
The chairman noted that in describing effective military leadership, he likes to use the example of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who played 20 seasons and also contributed to the sport as a head coach.
Gretzky was not an imposing figure, physically, in the rink, the chairman said, but he had great skill and something more.
“He was the smartest guy on the ice,” Dempsey said. “And he would say that he succeeded because he skated to where the puck was going to be, and not where it is. That’s who we need to be -- we need to skate to where the puck is going to be.
“We need to be the smartest players,” he continued. “We need to be the partners of choice -- and we are, by the way. We need to continue to promote our values, develop our leaders, invest in our military forces so that they’re the best trained, the best equipped, and the most creative on the planet.”
If America’s military forces maintain that excellence, they’d produce a deterrent against any potential adversary, the chairman said.
“It won’t matter who is out there; if someone chooses to confront us, we’ll be ready for them,” he said.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey
Special Report: Travels with Dempsey