WASHINGTON, April 14, 2011 -- The Army could provide a follow-on force in Iraq if asked, the service's new chief of staff said here, yesterday.
Iraq was just one of many topics Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the 37th chief of staff of the Army, took on during a 45-minute session with reporters in his office. He also touched on repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, the future of the service and what the Army needs to do in an era of fiscal constraint.
Dempsey wears two hats as the uniformed leader of his service and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the second position, the general said, he would recommend a continued mission in Iraq. Barring a request by the Iraqi government for a continued U.S. military presence, all U.S. forces are scheduled to be out of the country by the end of the year.
"If the Iraqis request support beyond the end of December, I would certainly say that a stable Iraq, long-term, would be of common interest to both of us," he said.
It would be in American interests, he noted, for Iraq to remain on its current path and become even more stable.
"Look at the neighbors, and see the troubles they are having," he said.
The Army would find a way to do it if tasked to do so, Dempsey said, but many questions would need to be answered. First, do the Iraqis want U.S. help' If they do, then what type of help - training and advising, counterterrorism assistance, airspace defense, border control, logistics or professional military education'
"There's any number of things they could ask for, and then we'd have to decide what it would take to do it," Dempsey said.
As training continues to prepare the force for repeal of the law that bans gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military, Dempsey said, he expects to make his recommendation in May. The repeal will take effect 60 days after the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the military is ready for the change.
"I have to be comfortable based on the input from my commanders in the field that they believe the training and education has permeated the force to the point where I can provide advice to the secretary and the chairman on the issue of certification," he said.
The Army has launched a study of the service and the profession of arms, Dempsey noted, something the service has done in the past, such as after Vietnam and at the end of the Cold War.
"It's one of those times when there are signals that the force, after 10 years of war, is asking itself, 'Who are we' What are we' Why are we' What is the role of the Army''" he said.
Certain attributes define a profession, the general said.
"You have to have an ethic -- a series of behaviors. You have to be self-regulating. You have to develop your leaders. You have to commit to long-term development," he said. "In many of those areas, we are doing extraordinarily well. But what I've found is that the force is embracing this effort."
The study is part of a Training and Doctrine Command effort to answer those questions, he added. Dempsey commanded that organization in his last prior assignment.
As chief of staff, Dempsey said, his first priority is keeping faith with the young men and women deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever else they go, and this has to be seen against the background of fiscal constraint.
"Given the clear task at hand that the nation has to address its financial challenges, we are also looking at what does this Army need to be for the nation, not what does the Army need to be for the Army," he said.
"The real art of being the chief of staff of the Army in support of the secretary of the Army and the secretary of defense is to take a look at across the budgets you will influence," the general said.
That goes out to fiscal 2020, he added, and the challenge is reconciling the very different pressures that exist in meeting the current demand, winning the current fight and building the future force.
Reconnecting the Army's divisions with their brigades is one of his aspirations in his new job, Dempsey said. Now, divisions deploy and often have brigades from different divisions.
"We grew the Army from 65 to 73 brigades because we needed it to manage the rotation on a 1-to-1 ratio," he explained. "That also backed us into the structure where brigades are available not when their higher headquarters is available, but when they are available."
While the modular system gives the service a degree of versatility that is helpful to the nation, Dempsey said, issues such as leader development and other human dimensions accrue. Still, he added, the modular force provides some second-order benefits.
"The heavy force has gotten much more comfortable working with the lighter force," he said. "Special operations forces are much more comfortable working with general purpose forces, and so on. This isn't all bad, but there are signals out to which we have to respond.
"And when the demand declines, which we anticipate it will at some point, you will find us inclined to reconnect leaders and mentors in a way that helps us get at these leader development issues," he added.
Dempsey said he is concerned about hollowing out the force.
"The commitment I've made is whatever Army we build, it will be well organized, well trained and well equipped," he said. "That might mean it's smaller than we like, but it'll be able to do the job it's asked to do."
Avoiding a hollow force has much to do with maintaining the balance among personnel, operations and modernization, the general explained.
"If you stray too far from this balance, you can hollow out the force," he said.
Dempsey said he will take a look at all Army programs to ensure they are doing what they were meant to do.
"We've been extraordinarily well supported over the last 10 years," he said. "The people of the United States have given us what we need." But programs can proliferate and morph, he added, and he thinks some may be redundant or not producing the outcomes needed.
"The challenge we face is to take a look at these programs holistically and then rack and stack them - prioritize them, determine the resources we have, and then make sure we have the resources for the ones that are producing the results," he said.
The Army is challenged, Dempsey acknowledged. Soldiers feel very good about what they are doing now, he said, but they are confused about the fiscal crisis and what forces are needed for the future.
"All this is routine and historical, but to them it's new," he said. "I'm 59 years old, and I've heard this four times in my career. What I've got to do is help them see their way through that. Part of my themes I'm working on, with the great help of the secretary of the Army, is to issue between now and the Army birthday a document that articulates some of that and calm the nerves of the force."
"The Army has been around for 235 years, and though it doesn't always look the same from decade to decade, it always provides the things the nation needs when it needs it," he continued. "I personally think the Army ought to think of itself as an organization that will adapt about every five to seven years. It's not just about new equipment, but new organizations and structures."
The younger generation embraces adaptation and change better than older generations, he said, "and I'm going to test that theory."