By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, September 23, 2015 — When Cadet Martin E. Dempsey reported to the Army’s U.S. Military Academy to begin his plebe year in June 1970, it was arguably the nadir of America’s trust in its military.
In April 1970 U.S. forces pushed into Cambodia from South Vietnam, sparking protests and riots throughout the United States. That May, Ohio National Guardsmen fired on protesters at Kent State University, killing four.
The civilian-military relationship appeared broken and irreparable.
Today, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey is the highest-ranking member of a military that is among the most respected institutions in America. A total of 72 percent of Americans say the military is the most-trusted government organization. The military has topped the charts every year since 1988.
As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dempsey is responsible for developing and maintaining the profession of arms.
All-Volunteer Force is Professional Force
The biggest change is the all-volunteer force. In 1970, the Army -- the largest service -- was a conscript force. “The officer corps was considered to be the professional core of the force, but it wasn’t a professional force,” the chairman said during a recent interview. “And by the way, professional is more noun than adjective in this regard. We are now very much a professional force at all ranks because we’re a volunteer force.”
When people agree to join the United States military, they are not just joining for a job or for an adventure, but to be part of the profession of arms, Dempsey said.
Why is this important? “Number one, a professional force will live up to the responsibility to allow civilian control of the military,” the general said. “Our elected leaders don’t wake up in the morning worried about whether their military will remain subordinate to them. It’s who we are. It’s part of our profession. It’s part of our professional ethos.”
Second, the military is responsible for managing violence on behalf of the nation. This means not only volunteering to put oneself into harm’s way, but inflicting violence on others, the chairman said. This “argues strongly for a professional force of men and women … who have other values such as humility, honor, duty, courage, all of the values that we espouse,” he said.
Wielding the incredible capabilities the U.S. military has is a tremendous responsibility and calls for those with an ethos rooted in their profession, Dempsey said.
“You’re not a profession just because you say you are: You have to work at it,” he said. “Over the course of my 41 years, there have been times when we’ve emphasized it. And when we’ve emphasized it, we’ve lived up to it. And there’s times when we have neglected it. And we always pay the price when we neglect it.”
Spreading the Gospel of Professionalism
Dempsey’s time as the chairman has allowed him to rekindle interest in what it means to be a profession, “and then to drive that into our force, into our leader development models, into our education system,” he said.
“In so doing, I … personally believe it’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to navigate through the very challenging environments we’ve had, both abroad and at home,” he added.
Embedded in the profession is allegiance to the Constitution, the chairman noted. Military personnel swear allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, “not to a party, not to a place, not to an individual,” Dempsey said. “I think that to the extent we can continually reinforce that, we not only make ourselves better and more dedicated, more committed, but we also make America better.”
He added, “That’s not hubris, I just think that as the United States military can be seen both at home and abroad as professional, dedicated, honorable, exemplary, I think that we are a genuine stabilizing influence.”