NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., March 5, 2012 — The military needs to examine the barriers that can prevent the best people from serving, the director of the Joint Staff said here today.
Navy Vice Adm. William E. Gortney spoke to 1,700 participants in the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium here in place of Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was scheduled to speak but was called to meetings at the Pentagon and White House.
The admiral, who is President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said the military today is far better than when he joined.
“It is a direct result of the leadership and talent pool women bring,” he said. “I would never want to go back in time.”
Gortney noted that debates are going on in Congress and around the military about the correct percentage of women in the military. “My answer is as many we can get and retain, and it is a lot more than we have today,” he said.
But the real issue, he added, is more about leadership than it is about how many women serve.
“Our job in the military is to fight and win our nation’s wars,” he said. “It is the sole purpose of our existence. We also need to provide a credible deterrent so perhaps we won’t have to fight those wars.”
The military, Gortney told the audience, is an experience-based force, with career paths built to prepare service members to lead and succeed in combat. “Ill-prepared leaders not only put our successes in combat at risk. It gets soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and [Coast Guardsmen] killed and injured in both peacetime and combat,” he said.
The command structures in all military services are pyramids, the admiral explained. “In order to move up the pyramid, you must succeed in every one of your tours,” he said, “for our past tours prepare us for our future tours, and this increases in importance the higher you go up the pyramid.”
Accession and retention are keys to creating the force America needs for the future, Gortney said.
“We must recruit into the base of the pyramid larger numbers of the demographics we are seeking, and then we must retain the best qualified as they move up the pyramid in their career paths,” he said. “This is true no matter what your gender, race or religion happens to be.” Growing the force, he added, requires identifying and removing barriers to accession and retention.
And leaders must recognize this will take time, Gortney said. It takes 17 years to train an Army battalion commander or a Navy or Air Force squadron commander, he noted, 24 to 25 years to “build” a brigade or regimental commander or a ship or wing commander, and 27 to 28 years for a leader to be ready for the general and officer ranks.
“Every service and every tribe within a service has similar stages,” he said. “We must recognize this is generational and will take time to correct. Leadership and experience must be grown. There is no quick fix.”
But people can help, Gortney said. In the accessions field, the military needs to identify practices that prevent or discourage “the youth of our nation from wearing the cloth of our nation,” he told the audience.
In retention, he said, leaders need to mentor, teach and lead.
“I mentor officers in every stage,” Gortney said, “and here is what I tell them: It’s not about the flying or the sailing, it’s about the people with whom you serve and the sense of purpose and mission that you share.”
Navy Chaplain (Rear Adm.) Margaret Grun Kibben, chief of chaplains for the Marine Corps and the deputy chief of chaplains for the Navy, delivered the blessing for the awards luncheon. She spoke of the achievements being celebrated and the “underside” that women have had to overcome throughout their careers.
“We stand in the shadows of heroes who have served their country in spite of those who said they couldn’t, and who blazed the trail we so contentedly walk today,” she said. The admiral spoke of the problem of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the way women still serve.
“Bless all those who serve at sea, in the air, with boots on ground or at home who consistently demonstrate the enduring strength, commitment and faithfulness to preserving our nation’s peace,” she said. “As we celebrate these women — both named and unnamed — grant that we who surround them are inspired to live our lives with the same perseverance and enthusiasm wherever you call us.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)