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Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

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2013 Security / Defense Department

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

(Liz Lynch)

photo of James Kitfield
July 16, 2013

Shortly after being named the Army's chief of staff in 2011, Dempsey was called into Defense Secretary Robert Gates's office. His boss wanted to know how Dempsey felt about possibly becoming the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the nation's highest-ranking military officer. "I wouldn't want that job," Dempsey replied, stressing that he was happy leading the Army. "That's why I'm offering the job to you," Gates responded. "And why you are going to take it." The anecdote speaks to Dempsey's sense of duty, but some trepidation may have been justified. Dempsey leads the U.S. military at a time when it is attempting a difficult transition, winding down an unpopular war, shrinking the force for an era of austerity, pivoting toward Asia, and leveraging the lessons and technologies acquired during a decade of war to reshape the military. The big trends he thinks he can shape include, in his words, "ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance], bigger and more capable special forces, and cyber capabilities." A West Point graduate, Dempsey, 61, is a New Jersey Irishman from Bayonne. He has master's degrees in English, military art, and national security studies. Dempsey also has a fine tenor voice often raised at official functions, where he is known to sing old Irish ballads or "New York, New York." He and his wife, Deanie, have three children, all of whom have served in the Army.

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