General Dempsey: Trust Runs From the Battlefield into Cities

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During his presentation at the Congressional City Conference last week, the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, walked nearly 1,200 attendees through multiple aspects of a photo (below) showing two soldiers from Afghanistan. The General underscored the importance of veterans in communities and the need for local leaders to ensure they receive the welcome home they deserve.


With each piece of the photograph, the General elaborated on the notion of trust. “Trust is what binds together those who serve, but I would also suggest to you today it’s what binds us together – those that wear the uniform and those of you that serve in your communities,” said General Dempsey.

The General mentioned his appreciation of NLC’s leadership on veterans’ issues, and he also spoke about his recognition that those in the audience were people willing “to take positions of leadership” and “who are committed to trying to make America safer, more stable, more secure and more prosperous.” “Leadership is always difficult, and it is especially difficult these days, it seems to me,” General Dempsey said.

The General discussed how the current success of our military in combat is due, in part, to their ability to concentrate on their job, knowing they are part of a team. “If we’re going to ask some young men and women from your communities, from my military, to go out and do that kind of work, we have to support them. It’s just not an option. And it’s not an option because of that word trust.”

The Chairman noted that the soldiers in the picture trusted each other by protecting each other’s backs; they were calling about something they needed and trusted they would receive. The General also noted that the solider in the foreground was married and elaborated on the trust that solider needed about his family’s needs being met.

Local leaders know that virtually no issue in their community can be addressed by only one stakeholder. To best support veterans, local leaders need to exert their leadership and bring attention to the issue of returning and existing veterans. Local leaders must trust that their leadership at home will unlock their city’s “sea of goodwill” for veterans.

Leveraging your position always comes with risks. The risk of failure or the risk of criticism. Some even talk about the risk of success. These fears can sometimes inhibit action. In all matters, fear or uncertainty must be addressed in order for action to happen.

However, when it comes to our veterans, local leaders must trust that like the soldiers who guard each other’s backs, other community members will support you and have your back when you raise the important and sometimes difficult questions about what can be done locally to improve our efforts to meet the needs of veterans and provide them with the opportunity to continue being “the next generation of great Americans.”

Trust and leadership are easy to talk about but not always easy to practice.

If we truly believe what we say about our veterans, if we believe they deserve the best, then local leaders must trust in their leadership, and in their cities, to come together and find ways to make sure our veterans are given every opportunity to continue their battlefield successes at home.

Click here to read the Chairman’s full remarks and go to learn more about what you can do to welcome veterans home.