Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dempsey Urges Grads to ‘Make it Matter’

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2014 – Wearing the dark blue jacket of his dress uniform, surrounded by fresh-faced, scrubbed and gowned graduates on a lush green morning campus in North Carolina, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey today painted a vivid picture of a faraway reality.

“It’s sunset right now in Afghanistan,” he said. “Thousands of young men and women your age are either completing their day’s work or just about to begin it. They do what they do because they trust each other; because they sense that they should give something back because of the opportunities that they enjoy in this country.”

So they put on their rucksacks, he said, and they march out of their base camps and into an uncertain future.

“That’s their way of making it matter,” he said.

Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a call-to-action speech emphasizing leadership, partnership, and responsibility today to graduates of North Carolina’s Duke University.

“It’s terrific to see so many international students among the student body,” he said. “I trust, I hope, I expect that you’ve formed relationships and friendships that will help us all manage an increasingly complex, and in some cases dangerous, world.”

Dempsey noted that during pre-commencement events yesterday, “I was privileged, really, to welcome 11 newly commissioned ensigns and lieutenants into the armed forces, our next generation of military leaders.” He invited the new service members -- uniformed for the ceremony -- to stand, then led a round of applause for them.

“And let’s not forget today’s Mother’s Day,” the general said. “So I also salute those of you who have nursed, nudged, nurtured, and nervously watched these terrific young men and women grow. You’ll still watch them nervously, but thanks for what you’ve done to bring them to this point in their lives.”

Dempsey noted he last stood in Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium when he received his master’s degree in English in 1984, when he was a captain in the Army. He learned some things during his time at the acclaimed university, Dempsey said.

“As the product of a Catholic education and West Point, I’d actually never had to dress myself,” he said. Even tougher challenges arose, he continued, and “there were moments I wasn’t sure I would make it through Duke. But instinctively, I knew I had to keep trying and I had to keep learning.”

The general said that even then, he had a sense that his chosen profession might lead him to an intersection with history.

“And history did find me, about 20 years after I left this beautiful campus,” he said.

Dempsey said that nearly 40 years into a military career that has arced from the Cold War to counter-terrorism and the cyber domain, “Of course I’m worried about the future.”

He worries about big nations becoming more aggressive; little nations developing weapons of mass destruction; religious extremism “and what it creates,” the chairman said.

Dempsey noted that his worries also include “the collapse of governance along in the Mideast and North Africa; about criminal networks that move drugs and illegal immigrants and arms to and across our borders.

“I worry about a pervasive and growing weakness in national and international institutions and structures that have for decades held together our sense of order and well-being,” Dempsey continued. “And yet, when I look carefully and thoughtfully at all of this, I see more opportunity than vulnerability. I remain encouraged.”

He draws hope not least from “the young men and women that I find poised to lead us,” he added.

People will have to think, not bludgeon, their way into the future, the general said. There will be more options, but also more ambiguity, in “dealing with the challenges we face.”

“You will need to find, fix and remain true to your moral compass, or you’ll find yourself paralyzed,” he cautioned the graduates. “… You have to find your own way. You leave Duke with the intellectual tools to accomplish whatever lies ahead of you. But that’s only half of what you need, and only you can measure the other half.”

Dempsey told the graduates they have crossed the academic goal line.

“You’ve hit it out of the park,” he said. “You’ve … thrown it down with a vengeance. But what’s in your heart?”

Dempsey said his real worry is that they and some of their peers across the country won’t confront that question.

“You’ll quickly become too busy to give each moment the value it deserves,” said the 18th chairman, who has spent countless weekend days and holidays playing with, singing to and just spending time with the surviving children and families of fallen service members.

“Too driven to lead personally,” he continued. “Too confident to be inquisitive, too certain to be approachable. I had a mentor suggest to me once that from time to time, I ought to ask myself a very simple question: When is the last time I allowed someone to change my mind about something?”

The more responsibility a person has, Dempsey said, the more important that question becomes. Standing in sunlight on a peaceful green campus, surrounded by academic robes and the traditions of the ivory tower, Dempsey evoked the stern ethos of World War II recruiting posters.

“Let me be clear: America needs you,” the chairman said. “It needs each of you, if it hopes to remain what it is and what it needs to be. We are and have it within us to remain exceptional. But you’ve got to make this wonderful education you’ve just consumed matter.”

Dempsey recounted a fact of his daily life that he speaks of often. On his desk in the Pentagon, he said, sits a small wooden box filled with 129 laminated cards, each bearing the photograph of one of the 129 service members who died under his command in Baghdad in 2003-2004.

“On that box in the Pentagon, on my desk, are three simple words: Make it Matter,” he said.

Dempsey told Duke graduates his hope for them is that they believe in themselves “as much as those sitting up here, and those sitting around you, believe in you.”

The nation’s senior military officer said he also hopes they “genuinely believe in the greatness and the exceptionalism of this country.”

He advised them, “Encourage it. Criticize it. Participate in it. But above all, believe in it.”

America needs leaders of consequence, he said. “No mediocrity, no bystanders, no ambivalence,” Dempsey urged. “ … Make it matter.”

Hagel: The United States Remains an Unrivaled Power

By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2014 – While some around the world believe the United States is a weakening superpower, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today defended America as the world’s dominant force.

“I have seen some of [that perception], yes,” Hagel said, during an interview on the ABC program “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”. “But we are still the dominant power. No one’s in our universe, whether you apply a metric or measurement of an economic power or military power.”

But that doesn’t mean the United States can solve every problem alone, he said.

“No nation can do that. I do think there’s a sense out there by some that somehow America has powers eroding, or we’re not going to use our power, or we’re too timid about our power. I think we have been wise on how we use our power.”

“I don’t think you can run foreign policy or lead a nation and be president of the United States based on what other people think of you,” he added.

Hagel was asked about several issues in the news, including the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls by the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria, the situation Ukraine and problems at the Veterans Affairs Department, in addition to cyber security threats, and questions regarding transgender people serving in the military.

The United States has sent a team of experts from the FBI, the intelligence community and the military to Nigeria to help authorities in the West African nation find the girls, kidnapped in the remote northeast last month.

“It’s a vast country, so this is not going to be an easy task, but we’re going to bear every asset we could possibly use to help the Nigerian government.” However, he said the United States has no plans to put American troops on the ground.

On the crisis in Ukraine, Hagel said even though Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that Moscow was withdrawing tens of thousands of its troops from along the border with Ukraine, Russian forces appear to be still there.

“Russia continues to isolate itself for a short-term gain,” he said. “The Russians may feel they’re somehow winning, but the world is not just about short term,” Hagel noted.

Regarding the growing threat of cyber attacks, Hagel said the United States is paying full attention to cyber security threats, but added it’s difficult to be confident.

“You can’t be,” he said. “The fact is, [cyber security issues] are as dangerous a threat as the world is dealing with, especially the United States. It’s quiet, it’s insidious, it’s deadly.”

Hagel was also asked whether department policy regarding transgender individuals serving in the military should be revisited now that gays and lesbians are allowed to serve openly.  He called the issue complicated because of its medical component.

“These issues require medical attention. In austere locations where we put our men and women in many cases [those military posts] don’t always offer that kind of opportunity,” he explained.

“I do think it should continually be reviewed … because the bottom line [is] every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity, if they fit the qualifications and can do it. This is an area we’ve not defined enough,” Hagel said.

Hagel also said he continues to support Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki amid reports that some veterans have died because they were unable to receive timely medical care through the VA system.

“There’s no one who understands accountability more than [retired Army] Gen. Shinseki,” Hagel said. “I do support [him], but there’s no margin here.”

The Defense secretary said if these reports prove accurate, “Accountability is going to have to be upheld, because we can never let this kind of outrage, if all of this is true, stand in this country.”

But the situation didn’t start with Shinseki’s term at VA, Hagel emphasized. “This is something that should have been looked at years and years ago. Yes, we missed it.”