Gen. William E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed military issues ranging from the national budget to women in combat Thursday during a visit to the Coast Guard Academy.
Dempsey said the cadets at the academy and the country’s other service academies will be facing a complex world upon their commencement. He said the Coast Guard touches upon numerous areas of national security, including preserving the global economic infrastructure and protection from a catastrophic attack.
“There are more capabilities that used to be the monopoly of nation-states in the hands of individuals and groups today around the world than ever,” said Dempsey. “And that trend is only continuing. And so the unpredictability, the complexity, and the danger of the world you’ll face will really require us to have a very clear understanding of our national interest.”
Dempsey stressed the need for greater certainty in the national budget as a way of ensuring national security. He said there is a need for the government to allow adequate time and flexibility in addressing any changes or cuts to the budget.
“Every time they deny us the ability to touch a piece of the budget, we can’t keep it in balance,” he said. “And what generally pays the price then is readiness, and I can’t let readiness erode.”
In addressing a recent decision to permit women in combat roles, Dempsey said that the decision had kicked off an emotionally charged discussion. However, he described the practice of forbidding women in combat roles as an “anachronism” and said it ignored the reality that women have already been serving in combat situations.
“I am ultimately responsible for two things: readiness—I’ve got to have a force that’s ready to go and fight—and secondly, good order and discipline,” said Dempsey. “I would do nothing to undermine those two responsibilities. And this does not undermine those responsibilities because the standards that will be set will be gender-neutral.”
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the nation’s highest ranking military officer, serving as an adviser to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council. Dempsey served in both the Gulf War and Iraq War before becoming the Chief of Staff of the Army in April of 2011; Dempsey assumed his current office in October of that year.
Dempsey praised the Coast Guard, saying the service is involved in numerous important duties.
“You have a constant mission,” he said. “Whether we’re in conflict or not, you have a mission and then when we get into conflict you actually participate just as significantly with just as much risk and just as much sacrifice as your fellow brothers and sisters in arms in the other services.”
Dempsey received raucous applause when he announced that he was declaring a late rack for the cadets on Friday and when he received a gift from the academy: a model of the barque Eagle. He closed his visit by saying each of the cadets had an opportunity to make a difference at a crucial period in history.
“If you ever wanted to lead when it makes a difference, you have found your time,” he said. “Now just take advantage of it.”