ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 11, 2016 — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his wife today thanked the National Military Families Association for its efforts, stressing that service members cannot protect the nation without the kind of support that groups like NMFA provide.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford and his wife, Ellyn, spoke at the NMFA leadership luncheon here.
The general compared military family life today to what he and his wife faced early in his career. In his first company command, about four senior staff noncommissioned officers were married, he told the group. Today, 51 percent of the force is married, and another 6 percent are single parents.
What hasn’t changed, the chairman said, is the unique stressors that military families face. The Dunfords are typical in that regard, having moved 18 times in his career to six different states. The general also deployed numerous times in peace and war.
“In our almost 32 years of marriage, … we’ve navigated raising three really nice children,” Ellyn Dunford said. “Without a doubt, I have no regrets about my time as a military spouse. Much of the satisfaction is due to traveling this road with my husband and three children.”
Mrs. Dunford praised groups NMFA and similar groups for helping military personnel build successful families.
Successful families are key to successful defense, General Dunford said. “Because of the quality of the men and women that we have in the armed forces today, I am able to say something to you with confidence: We can protect the homeland and our way of life,” he said. “We can meet all our alliance responsibilities. We have a competitive advantage over any potential adversary in the world. It’s important that point not be lost.”
The chairman said he believes the military can get better, and that he and the rest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff candidly speak about what is needed moving forward.
“I don’t want you or our potential adversaries to confuse our candor about the challenges we have in an effort to get better with any misunderstanding that somehow we are not the most professional, the most competent, the most capable force in the world -- because we are,” he said.
This doesn’t happen in a vacuum, Dunford said. Permanent-change-of-station moves, frequent deployments and field exercises affect not only service members, but also families, he explained. “For military members, they represent missed soccer games, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations,” he said. “I can still remember watching my daughter’s graduation on live-stream video.”
For spouses, it means missed employment or educational opportunities. For kids, the constant moves mean constant uprooting in their most formative years, he said.
“On a personal note, I couldn’t have remained on active duty without the support of Ellyn and the children,” Dunford said. “We couldn’t have stayed without the support of many others, and NMFA is on the top of the list of organizations that do that.”
Looking back, the chairman told the audience, military children have a degree of resilience, perspective, commitment and service “that comes from being around people like you.”
“When it comes to values, when it comes to what right looks like, my children know what right looks like, because they have grown up looking at what right looks like, and it’s made an incredible difference,” he said.
Intangibles and Tangibles
Dunford noted that last week marked 15 years since combat operations began in Afghanistan. No one would have forecast the strength and resilience U.S. military personnel have demonstrated since then.
“The folks in this room know it comes from intangibles, … the shared commitment that military families have to the mission. It comes from the belief we have in our nation and the responsibilities to defend our way of life.“It comes from the pride that we have in contributing to something greater than ourselves,” he continued. “But I believe we also realize that that strength and resilience comes from the support network that is in place to take care of military families. Intangibles get you far, but the support network allows us to do what we do.”