Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, expressed his desire to better the relationship between America and the military during the Landon Lecture program Monday at McCain Auditorium.
Dempsey said the image of the military veteran is defined by both the military men and women and the nation. He said the current relationship is good but could be better and deeper.
“What image is in your mind of the veteran and is there something you should be doing to shape it?” he asked.
Dempsey said part of shaping the image involves understanding the current environment for servicepersons. He said the military has experienced 10 years of multiple tours for its personnel and significant contributions from its reserve units.
“We all say thanks to them, but how often do we take the time to ask them to share their experiences?” he asked. “How often are you (servicepeople) willing to share your experiences?”
Dempsey said he’s pleased with the partnership that the nation’s higher education institutions have with the military, but said both sides could still find ways to improve it.
Dempsey said the Army needs to be better at preparing veterans to re-enter society and start their higher education. He recalled one veteran mentioning that civilian life has “a million tiny anxieties of life outside the combat zone.”
Dempsey said the issues awaiting soldiers include concerns about a family growing without them, the lack of singular focus that deployments create, and a tough economic environment.
“Many times even the toughest of veterans ... will tell you that in some ways coming home is tougher than being in combat,” he said.
Dempsey said universities need to realize that the issues veterans come with are different from the rest of the student population.
“You have to understand that they’re not high school kids coming out of senior year and matriculating into a normal academic experience,” he said.
Dempsey said it’s important to have these conversations now because more and more veterans are dealing with the effects of the nation’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As military personnel in that area are being withdrawn, there have been increases in violent incidents overseas this past month.
The recent protests and attacks on the U.S. embassies in north Africa and southwest Asia including Libya, where Chris Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, was killed, brought forth a question about whether the U.S. would consider moving away from the area.
Dempsey said the relationship with the area would continue even in light of this. “Ambassador Chris Stevens would be the first one to say under no circumstances should we abandon that part of the world simply because of the acts of a few terrorists,” Dempsey said.
He said the current problem is a complex, geopolitical issue with ideological and religious undertones that demands the military understand it.
“The one thing we’ve learned over the past 10 years, I think, is that whenever we have a complex problem, there’s a solution and it always goes wrong,” he said.
Dempsey said he’s a strong proponent of maintaining a presence with bases outside of the U.S. to help understand areas. He said the U.S. has to be engaged in the world to help influence it.
“Our presence allows us to build a relationship of trust that just our deployments wouldn’t allow,” he said.
Dempsey said he thinks the current period of instability will in the long run produce stability. “Getting from here to there will be a challenge not only for the United States, but the region, and I would venture to say the world,” he said.