OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made his first trip to U.S. Strategic Command and Offutt AFB, culminating in an open discussion with base personnel during a town hall meeting at the Patriot Club June 26.
Approximately 300 servicemembers and civilian personnel from USSTRATCOM, the 55th Wing, and the Air Force Weather Agency filled the club’s grand ballroom to hear the chairman speak and answer questions from audience members. The chairman was also joined by his wife, Deanie, who was there to show support for military spouses.
General Dempsey quickly set the tone, thanking the Offutt audience for their service and frankly outlining his priorities as the highest ranking military member in the nation.
The general said he’s focusing on three changes during his tenure as chairman: resetting the force for various security challenges, adjusting to budget constraints, and managing through force reductions.
“The nation has an economic problem and national power is the advocate of military, economic, and diplomatic power, and if one leg of that is weakened then national power is weakened,” he said. “The question we will answer with your help is, ‘how much smaller will the budget become and still allow us to preserve our resources necessary to live up to the responsibility that we have,’ which is to prevent the United States of America from being coerced in any domain - we are a global power. I think we can figure that out with your help. ”
General Dempsey alluded to setting goals when starting a new job, such as when he became chairman, by preparing an after action report as a template and aiming to accomplish those challenges.
“What do I want to be known for when my time as chairman is done?Â I want to be the chairman that got the people right,” General Dempsey said. “If we develop leaders and we keep the right people in, if we manage the talent in the force and keep faith in them â€¦ we can keep that bond of trust which has kept us together through some really tough times. ”
The chairman opened the floor to questions, offering thoughtful responses and in some instances using humor. Staff Sgt. Tara Guerrero-Salinas from the Air Force Weather Agency asked how he advises the president, particularly in regard to the North Koreans, their nuclear ambitions and recent test.
“I thought you said you were a weather woman, you should be on the national security staff,” he responded as the audience laughed. He then took time to offer his perspective.
“Our job is to make sure we see the whole thing in context, so the first thing is, we always try not to look at a particular event - for example, a ballistic missile test - but rather provide the context in which that event exists,” he said.
He weighed in different factors in the context of North Korea’s interest in becoming a nuclear power, the country’s new leadership, and balancing the Pacific region. He then would present the president with advice on how to prepare and shape the future regionally and globally.
Other topics brought up by the audience included military healthcare, cyber threats, and military families.
General Dempsey provided a metaphor for the complex nature of USSTRATCOM and Offutt missions and the strength of their force by invoking the meaning of the Native American word Omaha, which means “those going against the wind or current. ”
“It’s a pretty challenging time and I think we only get through it because of perseverance,” he said.
The general closed by thanking everyone for their service to the country and said he was proud to serve during a difficult time.
“Most of us come in because we’re committed to the profession and really want to make a difference,” he said. “If you ever, ever wanted to serve when it made a difference, you have arrived. ”