Dempsey speaks at Tuskegee University
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses ROTC cadets at Tuskegee University, Ala., Feb. 21, 2012.

WASHINGTON (Feb. 22, 2012) -- Trust is what defines the U.S. profession of arms, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told ROTC cadets at Tuskegee University yesterday.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke at the Alabama university famous as the site of training for the Tuskegee Airmen -- the first black airmen in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.

Dempsey told the cadets they were the next generation that will lead the military forward, and he spoke of the issue of trust. He showed a picture of a squad leader in combat in Afghanistan whose eyes show the stress he is under as he talks on his radio.

"Things are not going as he planned," the general said. "But he's not worried about anything to his right, because he has a rifleman to his right protecting his flank." And the rifleman, he added, isn't worried about his back because his squad leader has his back.

"That's a level of trust that defines our profession," Dempsey said.

Another level of trust in the photo is in the officer's communications, the chairman told the cadets. "He's calling for something -- indirect fire, close-air assistance, a medevac, or just guidance on what to do next," the general said.

"What's remarkable about the United States military is whatever he's asking for, he'll get," he continued. "And he'll get it, again, because of that bond of trust, which says that when we work together we become far greater than the individual sum of our parts."

The military as a profession is built on a foundation of trust, the nation's top military officer said.

"If you sign up to become part of that profession, what you are doing is making a commitment that you will do your part to live up to that bond of trust," he said.

That, Dempsey added, means "you will be someone who can be relied upon, that puts himself second to the well-being of others, someone who will care about their country so deeply that they will put their life at risk, and someone who understands that if we can do all this together and put our families in the equation, then America will stay the strong nation that it is today."

The military is going through three transitions, Dempsey told the cadets. The first is the transition of a military from war to a more peaceful time.

"The combat is still out there, and we are still dealing with the conflicts at certain levels, but the demand is going down," he said. "So if you choose to join our military, you will be joining it at a time when we will be deploying less, and working harder in garrison to prepare to deploy, to prevent conflict."

That transition will challenge officers and enlisted leaders in different ways, the chairman said.

"You have to connect with people in a garrison environment, you have to inspire them, you have to hold them accountable for discipline, you have to prepare them in training and not just in deployments," he said. "It will be a really hard job."

But the military has done this before, notably after the Vietnam War and with the end of the Cold War, Dempsey said.

The second transition is from bigger budgets to smaller budgets.

"We have to do what's right for the nation and the nation has some real economic challenges," the chairman said. "Just as the nation calls on the military to defend it when its interests are threatened, the nation has also called on our military to provide security at a more affordable cost.

"I, for one, think it's the right thing to do, and we will make it work," Dempsey continued. "But we can only make it work if we are pulling the same share of the same load, and if we're all working with that thing called trust."

Finally, the military is going to ask "100,000 or more young men and women who have been fighting the nation's wars to go back into civilian life as we contract and reduce in size," he told the cadets.

These transitions require dedicated leaders, he said.

"Sometimes leadership is thrust upon you, and it's what you do with it that really matters," Dempsey told the Tuskegee cadets. "You all here are going to be handed this legacy, and you will have to do something with it. My understanding of Tuskegee and the Tuskegee Airmen is that they dared to be great. They didn't just take it as it came, they dared to be great."

Cadets, too, must dare to be great, Dempsey said.

"And if that happens," he added, "then we will be all right."

Page last updated Mon February 27th, 2012 at 05:39