Army General Martin Dempsey says Coast Guard Mission ‘Constant’

By Claudette Roulo

NEW LONDON, Conn. – The Coast Guard has a constant mission, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told cadets at the Coast Guard Academy today.

“The military — and I include you in that joint force — we are the preeminent leadership experience in the world,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said during an all-hands assembly of cadets.

That leadership experience means being a military professional and accounting for both yourself and your institution, he said. “It’s not just about you anymore. … You have to continue your own development, both because you should, but also because of what it does for the profession.”

This includes developing and taking pride in unique skills and techniques, the chairman said. “Nobody else can be the Coast Guard,” he said. “We can’t outsource it.”

The military has become more complex since he was a lieutenant, Dempsey said. The services have restructured in response to threats that were once the sole domain of nation states but are now in the hands of decentralized organizations, the chairman said. And now, more responsibility is placed on young leaders than ever before, he added.

“We have to be a network in order to defeat a network,” Dempsey said.

Leadership is the most solemn duty of all, the chairman said. “Leadership is why we get up in the morning.”

Professional creeds and values can’t be abstract for those in leadership positions, he said. “You’ve got understand what it means to be committed, to serve selflessly, to be courageous, to have integrity, to live up to your creed here,” the general said. “… and you’ve got to develop a bond of trust like in no other occupation in the world.”
Leadership is a combination of character and competence, Dempsey said. “You can be the most competent man or woman, but you’re not a leader unless you have character.”

“You can’t develop trust absent character,” he continued. Competence is important, he said, but “if your subordinates don’t want to be you when they grow up, then you’re not a leader.” And trust is what allows the military to function, the chairman said.

“You don’t get on an icebreaker and head out to the arctic to bang away at 15 or 20 feet of ice unless you trust that, first of all, the captain of the ship knows what he’s doing and secondly, that everybody on that team knows what they’re doing,” he said. “You can sleep when it’s your turn to sleep because somebody else has the watch.”

Dempsey told the cadets that the world in which they will soon be working is one where change will occur faster than they expect and “it will be more complex … it’ll be unpredictable, and it’ll be more dangerous.”

This will require leaders to have a firm understanding of national interests, Dempsey said. In its position at the nexus between law enforcement and the military, the Coast Guard plays an integral role in defending those interests, he added.

In response to cadet questions following his speech, the chairman spoke about the budget crisis, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and the effects of the recent end to the combat exclusion rule.

The budget crisis isn’t a new situation, Dempsey said. “It’s the worst it’s been, but it’s not new.” Budget crises have followed previous wars, he said.

Where the current crisis differs, he said, is not in its magnitude, but in the amount of time the Defense Department has to deal with it.

“I’m not one that says don’t you dare think about taking another dollar from the defense budget,” Dempsey said. Refusing all cuts or walling off certain projects won’t help the department contribute to the nation’s economic well-being, he added.

The department needs budget certainty, time and flexibility from Congress, the chairman said.

“We can’t do this every year,” he said. “We do embrace change. We don’t do real well with uncertainty, and we have enormous uncertainty right now.”

If cuts are to be made, he said, the department needs time to absorb them and the flexibility to apply them in a balanced way. “Every time they deny us the ability to touch a piece of the budget, we can’t keep it in balance and what generally pays the price then is readiness,” he said. “I can’t let readiness erode.”

Dempsey told cadets the military has to be attuned to how it employs violence, particularly with unmanned aerial vehicles. UAVs have become more precise than they were initially, he added, and rely on multiple layers of intelligence to ensure that civilian casualties are minimized. “I think, as you migrate into the force and have access to these capabilities, you should think about how we employ violence,” he said. “ … For what intention are you applying violence? Have you exhausted other means? Are there other means?”

The standards are clear for the application of violence, he said, whether you’re talking about a bayonet or a UAV. The real question, the chairman added, is whether the use of UAVs is overcoming the ideology behind movements that seek to harm the U.S.

Turning to the role of women, he said, “The 1994 exclusion of women in combat had become embarrassing.” This was because it ignored the reality of women’s military service, he added.

“It was an anachronism,” Dempsey continued. “It was an emotional anachronism.” The rule served to discourage an examination of standards for military occupations across the board, he said. Now, the chairman added, the question isn’t whether a woman should serve in the formerly closed occupations, but “why shouldn’t they?”

He noted that not all men can, or even want to, qualify to serve in combat specialties. “I don’t wear a Ranger tab,” he said. “I’m not an infantryman, I’m an armor officer. I chose to ride to work,” he joked.

The end of the combat exclusion rule means that he has access to the deepest talent pool available, Dempsey said. Only one in four men of military age in the U.S. qualify for military service, he said, and that population isn’t becoming healthier or more educated. From his perspective, he said, the best reason to open combat specialties to women is that “we’re going to need them … I want to have as much talent available as I can possibly have.”

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