Yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Martin E. Dempsey hosted his second Facebook Town Hall where he addressed a range of questions to include the budget to the situation in Ukraine. Below are his responses:
Budget and Strategy
General Martin E. Dempsey: I’ve just returned from the House Appropriations Committee Defense hearing where the budget and strategy was the focus of our lawmakers in the House. As I told the committee, in my view, this budget is a pragmatic way forward that balances as best as it can, our national security and fiscal responsibilities. It provides the tools for today’s force to accomplish the missions we’ve been assigned—rebuilding readiness in areas that were – by necessity – deemphasized over the past decade. It modernizes the force for tomorrow—ensuring that we’re globally- networked and that we can continue to provide options for the Nation. And it reflects – in real terms – how we’re reducing our costs of doing business and working to ensure that the force is in the right balance. But it also reflects tough decisions such as reducing the size of our force and retiring weapon systems such as the A-10. Tim, you mention Army force structure… At 440,000 to 450,000 troops, the Army will be able to meet its mission with some increased risk. Below that level, the risk becomes significant. Also as Wendy points out, with sequestration, we are taking a considerable share of the overall budget.
If we get support in making institutional reforms, we will remain the world’s finest military—modern, capable, and ready, even while transitioning to a smaller and more affordable force over time. However, as I said last year, we need time, we need certainty, and we need flexibility to balance the institution to allow us to meet the Nation’s needs for the future. The funds passed by this Congress in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement allow us to buy back some of our lost readiness and continue to make responsible investments in our Nation’s defense. It doesn’t solve every readiness shortfall. It’s not a long-term solution to sequestration. But it does give us a measure of near-term relief and stability.
The Joint Chiefs and I will never end our campaign to find every possible way to become more effective. And this does include 20 percent reductions at three and four-star headquarters as Tim notes. We’ll do things smarter and more efficiently—more in line with the sorts of security challenges that we face today and in line with fiscal reality. We’ll seek innovative approaches as an imperative—not just in technology, but also in how we develop our leaders, aggregate and disaggregate our formations, and work with our partners.
General Martin E. Dempsey: This year’s budget request does not propose any changes to our current retirement system. However, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission is taking a holistic look at our current retirement system. Their proposals are due in February 2015. I will continue to recommend that if there are any future changes to retirement, those who are already serving must be grandfathered in the current program.
General Martin E. Dempsey: On Ukraine: Our role is to support the diplomatic approach to the resolution of the crisis in Ukraine and provide reassurance to our NATO allies. I’m in close contact with our NATO allies; I’ve spoken with my Russian counterpart, General Valery Gerasimov; and I’ve urged continued restraint in the days ahead to preserve room for a diplomatic solution. If Russia is allowed to move into a sovereign country under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, it exposes Eastern Europe to significant risk, because there are ethnic enclaves all over Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. That’s why we’ve been seeking, aggressively, to resolve this diplomatically before there could be a miscalculation.
I’ll add that Russia’s recent actions remind us that the world today remains unpredictable, complex, and quite dangerous. We cannot think too narrowly about future security challenges, nor can we be too certain that we can predict the future.
Martin E. Dempsey: First, it’s important to note that we are looking at becoming more efficient across the board. We have not made any decision to close commissaries. Commissaries have been a part of our lives and our military culture for as far back as when horse soldiers were stationed across the frontier. We have recommended gradually phasing out some subsidies to commissaries that are not overseas or in remote locations. Even with reduced subsidies, the commissaries will remain rent-free and tax-free, giving them an edge as they continue to offer competitive savings. But commissaries are only a small part of rebalancing the defense budget, and we must consider all cost-cutting efforts to ensure the joint force is the right size, with the right level of readiness and the right capabilities to enable us to implement our strategy now and over the long term.
General Martin E. Dempsey: Benjamin, I’m sensitive to the particular challenges of time and distance for our Guard and Reserve. As an Active Guard Reserve (AGR) member, your health care is covered and that is not changing. Also, you will not have to pay any participation fees because you are essentially active duty for purpose of medical care. For your family, it sounds like you’ll want to get care in the local area given the drive to a military treatment facility.
One provision we have built into the Consolidated TRICARE Health Plan, which is part of our budget submission, is for active duty (and AGR) families in your situation will have the flexibility to choose the doctors they want to see and will only pay the in-network co-pay, even if the doctor is not a network provider. This will help to keep costs lower for people in your situation. Plus, we’ve added a couple of enhancements to the program to keep costs down. One is that we have dramatically increased the number of preventive services that we cover at 100% no matter where you get them. Also, we are starting a nurse advice line to help beneficiaries decide when, and where, they should seek care when they have questions. So, while copayments will apply under the proposed changes to TRICARE, there are some enhancements that will help to offset what we feel will be only modest changes to the cost for most people.
General Martin E. Dempsey: Dylan, thank you for your decision to serve in the best Army on the planet. I have enjoyed every day of my nearly 40 years of service. I’m actually now thinking about making it a career.
As a 1974 graduate of West Point, I encourage you to apply. However, keep in mind that you cannot be older than 22 years of age on July 1st of the year you wish to enter. Here is the guidance from West Point’s admission department: http://www.usma.edu/admissions/SitePages/FAQ_Soldiers.aspx
If you wish to pursue a commission, the “Green to Gold” program is also a great opportunity that allows selected Soldiers to complete their baccalaureate degree requirements and obtain a commission through participation in the ROTC Scholarship program. Here’s a great link for you: http://www.goarmy.com/…/green-to-gold-active-duty.html
General Martin E. Dempsey: Absolutely Al! There is a continuing need to develop great strategic thinkers in the military and we have a strong history of doing so: Nimitz, Eishenhower, Schwarkopf, and many others. “Leaders are readers” and a solid reading program is just one tool in building strategic thinkers, and I have my own recommended reading list here: http://www.jcs.mil/…/Publications/CJCSReadingList2012.pdf
We also continue to develop such thinkers by sending bright men and women to senior enlisted leadership schools, to War Colleges, and to postgraduate institutions. Our culture in the military has often held advantages in breeding broad and strategic thinkers. Good leaders surround themselves with those who challenge their thinking and their paradigms. We must constantly cultivate that culture through mentoring, education and opportunities.
Finally, and I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve had an unusually busy week of meetings, that we must seek “white space” in our days in order to have the time and energy to truly think strategically. We must do this for ourselves and create the conditions for those we lead. The tyranny of the ‘urgent’ can easily crowd out the ‘strategic’, and we must not jeopardize our futures by succumbing to the pressures of moment.
General Martin E. Dempsey: I’ve recently returned from Afghanistan, where I went to gain first-hand appraisals from our troops and from our commanders. As always, I left there inspired and I can tell you that they remain fully engaged on the missions set before them. As to your question, the principal reason for us to remain post-2014 is to maintain pressure on al-Qaida. We’ve got to do this not just in Afghanistan but wherever they are either directly or through partners. It’s also important to support the Afghan National Security Force to continue to develop and be a stabilizing influence for their country.
The risk of our total departure is Afghanistan’s isolation – again. Having come out of a decade or more isolation imposed by the Taliban’s ideology and inward focus, the risk would be that Afghanistan would regress and become a safe haven for al-Qaida and other terrorist networks.
I’ve noted that we need the BSA for more than legal protections. We need it as a demonstrated commitment by Afghanistan that we are partnered with them for specific purposes and that we are not considered occupiers in their country post-2014. It’s the commitment to the partnership that we need. Only with that commitment will our forces be protected in every sense of the word.
Future of the Force
General Martin E. Dempsey: James, yes, the plan is to use the AH-64 Apache to replace the Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter as we draw down the fleet of Army rotary wing aircraft from seven to four helicopter types. The Apache attack helicopter will be teamed with unmanned aerial systems and used for scouting missions as well.
You may know that many Guard units will receive UH-60 Blackhawks in place of the Apache which will provide tremendous capabilities within the home states that these units serve.
General Martin E. Dempsey: Paul, as you know, building Joint Force 2020 is one of my focus areas. I can confidently say that in 2020 we will still be the most powerful military in the world if we continue with the strategy as we have laid it out in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). We must achieve the right balance between capacity, capability, and readiness to remain successful. Budget constraints have forced us to accept more risks … risks which we believe we can manage at this level. However, if sequester-level cuts return in ’16, or we cannot make good on the promises inside the QDR, then the risks will grow, and the options we can provide the Nation will dramatically shrink. That’s a gamble none of us should be willing to take.
General Martin E. Dempsey: Jean, thank you for your response and for your interest in recruiting and hiring veterans. I suggest you look at the new VA site for employers, Vet Success, found here: https://www.vetsuccess.va.gov/public/employers.html On this site, you can post available jobs, view Veteran resumes, and receive job applications. Veterans can browse your company’s job listings, post their resumes, and even apply for positions online. Over 200,000 Veterans are registered on the site. Additionally, this site has a 36-page Guide to Hiring Veterans you might find informative. Lastly, feel free to reach out to my staff in the Office of Warrior and Family Support (www.jcs.mil/wfs), which works with companies such as yours to share innovative examples from across America. See you soon. I’m honored to serve!
General Martin E. Dempsey: Several of you have encountered people online who pretend to be me. Unfortunately, scammers use my image as well as the images of other men and women in uniform to build relationships online with the intent of exploiting others. In fact, the Facebook Staff took down 13 profiles just today of people using my name and photo. I want to be clear that my only web presences are here on Facebook, on Twitter (https://twitter.com/martin_dempsey) and on my blog (http://www.jcs.mil/blog). Army Criminal Investigation Division has a great resource that tells you what to do if anyone contacts you pretending to be me: http://www.cid.army.mil/romance_scam.html. Thank you for being vigilant and watching out for me!
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
General Martin E. Dempsey: Gregory, I appreciate you asking about Sgt. Bergdahl. Secretary Hagel and I will continue to do everything in our power to bring Sgt. Bergdahl home.
Ethics in the Force
General Martin E. Dempsey: Noe, let me begin by saying that the issue of misconduct in our ranks has my full attention. The Joint Chiefs and I are committed to making sure our military leaders of all ranks uphold the trust we’ve earned within our ranks and with the American people. Although the overwhelming majority of our service members are tremendous professionals and citizens who bring their best and often sacrifice greatly, there will always be a few who let down the team and the nation. When they do, we hold them accountable.
We’re working on a variety of initiatives from training and education to 360-degree assessments to help prevent and mitigate problems. Ultimately, we must ensure the character, competence and culture of our force meets the high standards that the American people—and our men and women in uniform—expect and deserve.
If you have concern about a particular issue in Afghanistan please raise it. Ethical behavior must be our standard regardless of where we’re serving.
You can view the chairman’s first Facebook Town Hall answers here.