WASHINGTON, April 28, 2014 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff praised the members of the Dallas-based America’s Future organization for their efforts on behalf of veterans, but said such efforts must continue.
Groups like America’s Future will help define how the nation looks at its veterans, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said yesterday during a speech to the group in Dallas.
“What image will this generation’s veterans have?” the chairman asked. “The veterans themselves have less to say about who they are and how they will be remembered than you do, frankly.”
Dempsey spoke about the images he has had of veterans from World War II and Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. “Now we have the veterans of 12 years of conflict in an all-volunteer force, and how they will be remembered by history will be largely shaped by if America’s people and businesses and communities either embrace them or convince them that their service was valued or was not,” he said.
Dempsey brought up a lesson from history. Yesterday was the 77th anniversary of the German-Italian bombing of the Spanish village of Guernica. “The idea was they were working on advancing this new technology related to aerial warfare,” he said. “And the big idea on the part of the Axis was they would make resistance so outrageous, so costly to the Spanish that they would just capitulate.”
It didn’t work that way, the chairman said, and Pablo Picasso captured it in the famous painting, “Guernica”.
“Seventy-seven years later, technology keeps charging on and we learn to adapt with it,” Dempsey said. “But we can’t ever forget that what really matters in warfare are our young men and women who choose to serve and put themselves in harm’s way.”
The chairman used a photo to make this point. He showed a shot from Afghanistan where a young squad leader is on the radio. On the left is a rifleman protecting him. He’s obviously calling for something – aerial support, indirect fire, medical evacuation, guidance.
“Whatever it is he’s asking for, he is going to get,” Dempsey said. “That’s what sets us apart from any other military in the world. That’s a bond of trust we have with these kids, that when we put them in that position, that whatever they need, they’ll get.”
The chairman noted the soldier is also wearing a wedding ring. This bond of trust goes all the way from the front edge of the battlefield to communities and cities across the United States. “That is a bond of trust, without which this all-volunteer force would not hold together,” he said.
The bond of trust has to continue when service members and their families come home as well, the chairman said. “When they come home, there is a sense of trust – not a sense of entitlement,” the chairman said. “It’s not about them feeling entitled. They don’t want a handout, they want a handshake. They just want a chance.”
What communities like Dallas do to give these men and women that chance really is important, Dempsey said.
The chairman discussed the U.S. military in transition. The military is going through a transition after 12 years of war, Dempsey noted. “This doesn’t mean all conflict will magically cease, but we will have to rebalance to meet some enduring challenges and new challenges,” he said. “We have to rekindle some skills that we’ve lost over the past 12 years.”
And it must be done at a time of fiscal austerity. “We will manage our way through this, but the sooner we have some certainty, the sooner we gain some flexibility in the way we apply our budget, and the more time we are given to manage these changes then the better off we will be,” he said. “As we go through this, we will continue to earn and re-earn your confidence and the confidence of the American people.”
The bottom line for all Americans is to make the sacrifices these young men and women have made worth their blood, sweat and tears, the chairman said.
Dempsey told the audience that he has a box in his Pentagon office with the words, “Make It Matter” engraved on top. It contains the names and biographies of all those killed while under his command.
“We have an obligation to make the sacrifices of these young men and women who have fallen, but also those who have served, those who are suffering from wounds both physical and emotional – we have a genuine obligation to make their sacrifices matter,” he said. “And one of the ways we make their sacrifices matter is by taking this task on board: The task of helping their teammates.”
Dempsey spoke of visiting Brook Medical Center in San Antonio on Friday. There have been 1,645 amputees since the wars began in 2001. In previous wars, they would most likely have died. With medical advances 500 of them have returned to active duty, and 60 have gone back into combat.
“But there are more service members who have limbs so badly damaged that they contemplated having an amputation,” the chairman said. Enter a public-private partnership. The joint venture developed a brace that allows these men and women to carry the weight and eliminates much of the pain.
“What it says to me, is we’ve got to keep learning,” he said.