By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
While change and innovation are crucial to the U.S. military, leaders have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
That, in essence, is what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the graduating class of the National Defense University at Fort McNair this week.
During his speech, Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford presented a convincing argument on the need for change and innovation in the military. He is worried, frankly, that the U.S. military has not adapted to change or anticipated change well enough to succeed in the years ahead.
But, he told the graduates, they must have the wisdom to know what should be changed, and what should not.
Nature of War
While the character of war has changed, its fundamental nature has not, Dunford said. “War remains … a violent clash of wills in an environment characterized by fog, friction and chaos,” he said. “And because the character of war hasn’t changed, neither have the primary factors that lead to success on the battlefield.”
Any tactical success the United States has had over the past 15 years is due “to the endurance, the courage and the commitment of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civil servants,” Dunford said. “It has been their willingness to go out, day after day to do what has to be done that made the difference.”
War is a clash of wills. Maintaining the will to fight is key to prevailing. Before any changes are made to the military, the chairman wants there first to be an examination of the effects those changes will have on the élan, the spirit, of service members. “That will to fight, that will to put yourself at risk, the willingness to put the needs of your buddy ahead of your own can’t be quantified; it comes from intangibles,” he said.
Units live or die on those intangibles, Dunford said. The soldiers and Marines who fought in the Belleau Woods in World War I did not have a lot of training or experience, he said, but the intangibles allowed them to stop the last German offensive.
The soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division became known worldwide as “the Rock of the Marne” for their defense of Paris in 1918, the chairman said, and the intangibles that led to their victories were handed down to the soldiers of the division who fought in Italy, France and Germany in World War II.
“We do need to adapt to change … but at the end of the day, we’re not going to be defined by MRAPs, fifth-generation fighters, DD-1000s or cyber capabilities,” Dunford said. “What we wear, what we shoot, what we drive and what we fly, that’s not who we are. All those things … will change again in the future in ways we can’t imagine.”
The foundation of American military success “is actually no different than why we were able to survive and succeed in World War I, despite the leadership’s inability to recognize what needed to change, despite the leadership’s inability to adapt during a war, there was still success,” Dunford said.
“We are able to do what we do today for the same reason we were able to do it in World War I, and that’s because we are fortunate enough to lead individuals who have the will and the courage to endure and prevail, because they trust you and they trust themselves,” the chairman said.
He told the graduates that as they move to their next assignments, they need to lead in such a way as to “foster those intangible qualities which make the difference — they made the difference in the past and they will make the difference in the future.”
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