Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Public Affairs : Dempsey addresses Class of 2014

Dempsey talks to firsties on life after West Point

By Kathy Eastwood
Staff Writer
WEST POINT, N.Y. (April 3, 2014) — Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took some time March 27 to talk with cadets, faculty and staff and also addressed the Class of 2014 at Robinson Auditorium.

Dempsey first told the cadets he had no lecture or briefing prepared for them, and had brought just one slide to present.

“This is going to be about you. You are giving me the opportunity to let me know what is on your mind,” Dempsey said. “This is for one important reason, you are going to graduate in 61 days and I want to make sure you know that we really need your leadership. We really need your ownership; you are going to have to own this thing we call the military profession.”

Dempsey said after the cadets graduate, they must be tactically competent to lead an infantry platoon or tank platoon.

“We have been banged around a little bit,” Dempsey said. “We have gotten sloppy, not because we are bad and it is not because we have huge issues that is permeating the force. It is the bad behavior of a few frankly, but it reflects on us and because it reflects on us, it starts to erode the confidence the American people have in the Army. This is not going to happen on my watch and I want to make sure it does not happen on your watch.”

Dempsey then displayed one of his favorite images of a Soldier in the field in Afghanistan and described what that Soldier could be feeling.

“You can see in his face, that something is not right, you do not know what it is, but you can see it in his eyes; the concern and the mixed emotions of fear and courage of commitment and the uncertainty,” he said.

The Soldier is also on the radio probably calling for indirect fire, Medevac or something he needs. Dempsey said what sets us apart from other nations is whatever that Soldier needs he is going to get. That is the trust he has.

“That commitment we make to each other will continue to be the case,” Dempsey said. “You also see he has a wedding band on and that reminds us of the network of support that must exist for who awaits him a thousand miles away. This is an incredible responsibility that we all share and I hope it reminds you today that the very foundation of who we are as a profession is the word trust.”

Dempsey said trust is the very foundation of the Army and cadets will have to earn that trust every day that they wear the uniform of an Army officer; it cannot be taken for granted.

He also advised the cadets to look into their hearts and ask themselves how they feel about the Army.

“I know that you are going out of here with something tangible, a diploma, a rank and a branch insignia,” he said. “How do you feel about becoming a platoon leader? How do you feel about taking responsibility for other lives and networking with non-commissioned officers? Allow yourself to become introspective, just for a moment; it is about you having a conversation with yourself about how you made it. Do not let time pull you along without thinking of what you are doing and why.”

Dempsey said leaders must develop self-awareness so they can interact with young men and women of different generations and deal with a more complex security environment.
In addition to addressing the Class of 2014 at Robinson Auditorium March 27, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke with cadets enrolled in the American Exceptionalism course in the Department of Social Sciences conference room as the guest lecturer.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took some time March 27 to talk with cadets, faculty and staff and also addressed the Class of 2014 at Robinson Auditorium. Photos by John Pellino/DPTMS VI
“Before you lead, you must know more about yourself,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey said he is always asked about what he sees as the important issues in the Army and described them as the 2-2-2-1.

“Two are heavyweights, Russia and China; two are middleweights, Iran and North Korea; two are networks, Al-Qaida and their various networks; and the cyber domain and one is the transnational criminal organization,” Dempsey said.

“The transnational criminal organizations generally are focused on the movement of drugs and will sell themselves to the highest bidders, and your Army career will be influenced by that,” he added. “You will also be dealing with Al-Qaida during your entire Army career, whether it is five years or 20 years. We have been successful in stripping away its core leadership, but there are groups that brand themselves with that ideology.”

Dempsey opened up the last half hour of his speech to questions from the cadets.

One Class of 2014 Cadet asked, “From your position, what does winning look like?”

Dempsey answered by giving the example of Iraq.

“People say to me, how can you possibly feel good about what you did in Iraq,” he said. “We accomplished our mission. We defeated the Al-Qaida element, built security forces and established a leadership. The government did not live up to their bargain, but we left at the request of the Iraqi government. It was the right thing to do.”

Dempsey explained that had U.S. forces not withdrawn from Iraq when asked, they would be seen as occupiers with no hope of establishing a democratic way of life within that environment.

“Were we there to help a sovereign nation or were we there to impose ourselves on the people,” Dempsey said.

Another cadet asked about the value of the support system of the home. “How do you balance your progression of your career and your duty to the nation and to the family?”

Dempsey answered with a metaphor of a rock which Soldiers carry.

“You will take out of here a rock, and on that rock will be written the word guilt,” he said. “Guilt, there is nobody that is more guilt-ridden than an officer in the Army. You are going to have this guilt, but if you are not at work, you are not living up to your responsibility. Sometimes you will be offered two jobs; one may lead to a promotion. You will go home and talk it over with your spouse, who may have strong opinions, but you are the one that must make the call, you will have to decide.”