Military Must Work to Keep America’s Trust, Dempsey Says

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md., Nov. 7, 2011 — The mil­i­tary is among the most admired insti­tu­tions in Amer­i­ca, and ser­vice lead­ers must work to ensure that con­tin­ues, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

Army Gen. Mar­tin Dempsey told Nation­al Guard senior lead­ers that sur­veys show the mil­i­tary has a 78 per­cent approval rat­ing by the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

Dempsey asked experts at the U.S. Army War Col­lege to tell him why the mil­i­tary was pop­u­lar — and what it would take to lose that pop­u­lar­i­ty. “Maybe if I knew what it would take to screw it up, I could avoid it,” he said.

And that is pos­si­ble. At the end of the Viet­nam War, only 50 per­cent of Amer­i­cans approved of the mil­i­tary. Through the 1980s and 1990s, that per­cent­age grew, with it going over 80 per­cent twice in the past decade.

“The rea­sons are that the Amer­i­can peo­ple see us as car­ing about them and their wel­fare; the Amer­i­can peo­ple see us as try­ing to remain­ing aloof from pol­i­tics,” he said. “They see us as hon­est bro­kers and good stew­ards.”

Dempsey com­pared the mil­i­tary with oth­er pro­fes­sions and occu­pa­tions. He found that police and small busi­ness own­ers also are well-regard­ed by Amer­i­cans. Banks, politi­cians and oth­ers are seen as self-serv­ing, he said.

The chair­man list­ed four mis­takes the mil­i­tary can make to ruin its rep­u­ta­tion with Amer­i­cans. “The first thing we can screw up is if we don’t rec­og­nize that our coun­try has an eco­nom­ic cri­sis and we have to be part of the solu­tion,” he said.

Nation­al pow­er is the sum of eco­nom­ic, diplo­mat­ic and mil­i­tary strength, Dempsey said. “You can’t pick among them,” he said. “If we are seen as just anoth­er spe­cial inter­est group fight­ing off the real­i­ty of the new fis­cal envi­ron­ment, we will lose the stand­ing we have earned with the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

The next mis­take would be to not take care of mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, the chair­man said. Even though those who leave the mil­i­tary come under the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs, “they will always be our sol­diers, our sailors, our air­men and our Marines,” he said. “If they are home­less and unem­ployed … we all suf­fer. When we look to the future and how we invest and how we tran­si­tion and how we care for them, they are ours and they are ours for life.”

If Amer­i­ca sees home­less vets crowd­ed into tent camps under inter­state high­way bridges, the mil­i­tary will lose its stand­ing, he said.

A third way to lose faith with Amer­i­cans would be for ser­vice mem­bers to not be dis­ci­plined, trained and pro­fes­sion­al in their inter­ac­tions with the Amer­i­can peo­ple, Dempsey said. The Nation­al Guard, specif­i­cal­ly, is asked to pro­vide a safe­ty net for police, fire­fight­ers and oth­er first respon­ders, he not­ed.

If there is an event that over­whelms reg­u­lar pub­lic safe­ty per­son­nel, gov­er­nors or the pres­i­dent can call upon the Nation­al Guard to assist these civ­il author­i­ties. “The Amer­i­can peo­ple trust us” to be even-hand­ed, trained, and to not use exces­sive force, Dempsey said.

Final­ly, as the nation enters an elec­tion year next year, the mil­i­tary must remain apo­lit­i­cal. “The Depart­ment of Defense has some very clear guide­lines on what is and is not appro­pri­ate to occur on mil­i­tary instal­la­tions and to occur with DOD per­son­nel,” the chair­man said. “Again, we are not a spe­cial inter­est group. And again, we must remain apo­lit­i­cal.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)