General Martin Dempsey, the highest ranking military officer in the country, can talk seriously about the growing threat of the Islamic State but has no difficulty interjecting humor to lighten the mood.
Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and President Barack Obama's top military adviser, gave a speech on Friday at UNC. The event was co-sponsored by UNC’s Department of Peace, War and Defense and the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, and it brought students and members of the Chapel Hill community as well as current and former military members.
Chancellor Carol Folt introduced Dempsey and spoke about the university’s long partnership with the military, including how the Army Strategic Leadership Development Program has been implemented into the Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Dempsey, who holds a Duke University master’s degree and is an avid Duke basketball fan, joked about Folt’s choice of footwear for the evening.
“I’m just sorry they didn’t have those high heels in the proper shade of blue,” he said.
Dempsey then transitioned into his remarks, saying that an important question today in America is the role of the military.
“What is it that the military represents for America, who are we, how do we connect with you, are we admirable, are we something that you would want your sons and daughters to take part in?” he added.
Dempsey said he used to focus on a 2-2-2-1 approach to looking at national security: two heavyweights, Russia and China; two middleweights, Iran and North Korea; two networks, radical extremism and transnational organized crime; and one domain, cyber.
He said he now views the military by focusing more on three key ideas — mother nature, human nature and Moore’s law. Mother nature, he explained, mainly concerns geography.
“Geography really matters — what is going on in Eastern Europe and the issue in Ukraine is really fundamentally about geography when you come right down to it,” he said.
Geography could also play an important role in the growth of groups like the Islamic State in the Middle East and Boko Haram in Nigeria, he said.
During his next focus, human nature, Dempsey cited a quote from the recent movie Fury: “Ideals are peaceful, but history is violent.”
It’s important to consider what the normal state of humanity is and draw some kind of conclusion, he said.
Moore’s law, he said, is the pace of change, which he believes is moving at an even faster rate today with the rapid increase in technology.
Dempsey allotted a large amount of time to a Q&A session, and many audience members appreciated the opportunity — including First Lieutenant Ethan Dick, who came from Fort Bragg for the speech.
He said he enjoyed the humor and relatability Dempsey offered, including when a student apologized for asking a similar question during the Q&A session.
“I am used to that — I go to testify before Congress all the time,” Dempsey replied.
Dick said the speech also reinvigorated the passion for what he does and why he does it.
“It gave me a new sense of humanity and a very personal touch to the organization,” he said.
UNC freshman Brian Fields also noted how personable Dempsey was and how easy he was to understand.
“It just made you realize that people in positions of power like the joint chiefs and the president and people like that, are everyday people too who have lives just like us,“ said Fields.
The speech also left freshman Daniel Adamkiewicz feeling more confident in the U.S. military.
“Before I had doubts that the military was run by effective leadership, and I didn’t really know who was the military, and the face behind it,” said Adamkiewicz.
“Walking out of it, I felt a little better, knowing that the military was in capable hands.”
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