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      Philadelphia Speakers Series

      General Martin Dempsey Captivates and Charms Speakers Series Crowd

      Philadelphia Speakers Series

      Widener ROTC Cadets Jordan Saufley and Brianna Cortes had a chance to talk with Gen. Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

      As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2011 to 2015 and chief of staff of the U.S. Army, General Martin Dempsey advised the president, secretary of defense, and the National Security Council. Since serving as the nation's highest-ranking officer, Dempsey was sure to have intriguing stories and unique insights to share with the Philadelphia Speakers Series crowd at the Kimmel Center on Feb. 13. But while Dempsey's insights kept the audience riveted, it was the delightful sense of storytelling by one of TIME magazine's "100 most influential leaders in the world," that captivated them.

      Dempsey shared a charming anecdote about his first command post near a small German village in the middle of a remote, vast forest wilderness. Dempsey's troops were on the front lines of the Cold War in 1974, helping to guard the border against Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces.

      One day, a nun showed up at the gate in the middle of this forest and demanded to see Dempsey, asking to pray with his soldiers. He initially did not want to let her in and sent her away, but she returned and persisted. As Dempsey gave her a tour of the post, he tried to steer her away from a group of troublemakers, explaining that troublemakers were inherent to a conscript army. The nun asked, "Are these not your soldiers?" Dempsey replied, "Yes, they are." The nun told him if they were indeed his troops, he must take responsibility for their morale and success. If, as their leader, he thought of them as failures, how could he ever expect them to succeed? It was on his shoulders if the soldiers were troublemakers or if they were successful.

      Dempsey took her words to heart and learned a powerful leadership lesson that shaped the commander he was to become. It's leadership experiences like this that have allowed Dempsey to develop insight into issues facing the world today.

      Dempsey believes the United States needs to address five major challenges:

      1. China's rise in the Pacific and its extreme economic focus that is sometimes in conflict with our interests,
      2. Russia's assertiveness and how it affects Eastern Europe and our NATO allies,
      3. ISIS and the threat of terrorism around the world,
      4. Iran's provocations in the Middle East, and
      5. North Korea's destabilizing factor regionally. He noted that we cannot handle these five challenges by ourselves. "We need to work together with our allies to address them."

      A warrior-scholar, Dempsey has three master's degrees: one in English, one in military art and science, and one in national security and strategic studies. Dempsey wrote his English master's thesis on the Irish literary revival, and he shared a quote with the Speakers Series audience from William Butler Yeats that is relevant to America today: "Talent perceives differences, genius unity." Dempsey said we should not allow fears, real or perceived, to turn us away from who we have been throughout our history. "We need our genius. We need to focus on what unites us, not on our differences but on our unity."

      The Philadelphia Speakers Series is presented by Widener University. Stay tuned for the next event in the series featuring broadcast journalist Ted Koppel, former anchor of Nightline on March 27.


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