By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, – This is a time of transition for the U.S. military and part of that change requires service members to immerse themselves in the study of their profession, said Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dempsey took time during his recent travels to Colombia and Brazil to talk to reporters about the transitions he sees coming.
In his letter to the force upon taking office in October, Dempsey stressed the need for service members to study their profession.
“We’re not a profession simply because we say we’re a profession,” he wrote. “We must continue to learn, to understand, and to promote the knowledge, skills, attributes and behaviors that define us as a profession.”
Dempsey said he gets a lot of affirmation on his position.
“Most agree that we need to look inside this profession of ours and make sure we have the attributes right,” the general said in an interview aboard a C-17 en route to Colombia. “Are we developing the right attributes in our new leaders? Some of those attributes are enduring, but there are some new ones.”
But there are a number of service members, he said, who question the need for this study.
“There are some who say, ‘C’mon. Look how good we’re doing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Dempsey said. “To me, that’s the formula for losing our credentials as a learning organization.”
The military has been through 10 years of conflict and service members have made many deployments. “How can we think that hasn’t had some effect? It seems to me to be a bit naïve,” the general said.
Dempsey said he isn’t suggesting the military is broken. Morale is high, he said, and the spirit in the force is good.
“I am suggesting that we ought to have the conversation,” the general said.
The U.S. military has had these sorts of discussions throughout its existence. As the military faces its latest transition, Dempsey said, it is a good time to see what is needed to maintain the best military on the globe.
And this discussion is not limited to officers. “We have been putting more emphasis on the noncommissioned officer as an integral part of the profession,” Dempsey said. “That’s kind of a new thing. Twenty years ago, the profession was defined by officer corps and then the NCOs were held accountable to go out and deliver it.”
But NCOs have to be part of the discussion on what it means to be a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine, the chairman said.
“How do you see yourselves as leaders in the profession?” he said. “They are at the point of the spear on this in terms of dealing with all the issues we’ve uncovered in the past 10 years. We have continually said to them — rightly — that they are what make us great; that they are the backbone of the profession.”
But being the backbone means continuing to grow and to be strong enough to support the body, the general said.
Ten years of war, Dempsey said, has affected all aspects of the force. NCOs have typically been handed a training checklist, for example, to get troops ready for war.
“Now they are reaching a point where noncommissioned officers are going to have to think about what it means to train their organizations,” he said, “to deliver an outcome and to re-instill those small disciplines — training management, command supply discipline, barracks discipline — those small disciplines that in a war sometimes are overlooked because they are so darn busy.
“Now we are going to have to hold the NCOs accountable for bringing that [discipline] back,” he added, “and I think sometimes they underestimate the challenge.”