CARLISLE, Pa. -- The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, engaged the students of the Army War College here on Friday, Dec. 8, on various critical topics including global capabilities, professional development, and readiness.

"This year, to me, is a critical year in the professional development of O5s, lieutenant colonels, commanders, or their equivalents in the interagency -- a critical year in starting to think about problems at the strategic level with a degree of complexity that is in many ways much greater than the challenges they dealt with at the tactical and operational level," he said during a follow-on interview following his talk.

Dunford noted the value of his academic year at the Army War College during his discussion with the U.S. students and 79 international officers in the class. He mentioned that in a few years, he will be passing the leadership baton to a new chairman and a new generation of leaders who now sit where he did 18 years ago as a member of the Class of 1999. That compelling fact underscored the insights he offered to the current students, along with the mandate to maintain their competitive advantage.

The pace of change for the profession of arms and the implications of change in the nature of weapon systems and the character of war compels the intellectual work the students are doing now, he said.

"Where do you focus planning to manage issues?" he asked the audience. He answered his own question with a master class in how to frame thinking and communicating about the strategic environment and the complexity of regional problems sets with global implications.

Most rewarding for the audience was his decision to answer every question by the students following his talk. Those discussions addressed the responsibility for global integration when few problems exist in a single region; the requirement for a balanced inventory of capabilities; the nature of military advice; and an understanding that the "military dimension" of a problem is part of the solution, but rarely, if ever, the most important part.

Dunford referred further to his personal experience at AWC and his expectation for the current students during his follow-on interview.

"One of the first qualities that I'd look at is the ability to look at complex problems, identify the core elements of those complex problems, and the implications of those core elements -- and then, to be able to communicate to people about the nature of that particular problem and how to frame it so you can … solve it …. That's my definition of critical thinking," he said. "The other attributes, of course, are interpersonal skills and the ability to build teams, your understanding and empathy with regard to other cultures. You're going to find yourself in a coalition or in an alliance in almost everything we do."