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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Visits Connecticut, Talks Leadership

Oct 22, 2014

The nation’s highest-ranking military officer delivered the keynote address at this year’s Geno Auriemma Leadership Conference organized by UConn School of Business. U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke about the tenets of leadership that exist in both the military and civilian world. 

General Dempsey began his talk recalling the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and the moment President John F. Kennedy was being briefed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey showed the audience a picture of the actual sheet of paper Kennedy was doodling on at the time of the briefing, drawing small pictures and words that symbolized the many options he had before him to deal with the crisis. 

U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey greets veterans in the audience.
Credit Lucy Nalpathanchil / WNPR

Dempsey said Kennedy’s doodle was one way the President thought through his next steps, ultimately deciding on a naval blockade of Cuba. "As the story goes, it worked," he said. "We’re still sitting here, and a nuclear exchange, and a military exchange, was avoided -- but what I’m reminded of is you make decisions always in uncertainty. There’s never enough information."

Dempsey went on to say the timing of decision-making is all the more difficult when dealing with what he called "a drive for immediacy." He pointed to current events, and the four-week-old air campaign against the so-called Islamic State in the Middle East.

"People are asking what happened," Dempsey said. "Why is it that this threat is still manifesting itself in parts of Iraq and Syria? It's mind numbing, frankly, for anyone to think you can overcome what, arguably, I think, is 20 years of unrest and disenfranchisement, and sectarian and religious conflict in the Middle East, that you could overcome it in four weeks with an air campaign."

Retired Army veteran, Staff Sgt. Wilfredo Rivera with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S Army General Martin Dempsey
Credit Lucy Nalpathanchil

As chief military advisor to the President and the Secretary of Defense, Dempsey travels around the world to meet with his counterparts. He told the audience at Mohegan Sun's Convention Center that successful leaders must build relationships and establish networks while striving for innovation. He said that if the U.S. military only relied on its might, it would not succeed.

Dempsey stressed that trust in leadership is just as important as, and is what contributes to military strength. He is the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He plans to retire next September after 41 years of service.