Military Must Examine Barriers to Service, Admiral Says

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)