Ex-colleagues: Dunford's combat experience, skill will serve him well as Joint Chiefs chair

Jul 30, 2015 | Stars & Stripes

By Tara Copp

The first time retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Peter Metzger met Gen. Joseph Dunford, it was 1979 and Dunford was a second lieutenant assigned to the barracks beside him at Camp Pendleton.

“I knew then he was something special,” Metzger said of his lifetime friend, who was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday as the 19th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Good leaders rise,” said Metzger, who served with Dunford multiple times during their Marine Corps careers and has stayed close friends. “He has a brilliant tactical mind, and he’s commanded from the company, platoon, division and [Marine Expeditionary Force] levels.

“He understands the plight of servicemen and women.”

Larry Korb, a senior defense analyst at the Center for American Progress, who served as an assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, said that one of Dunford’s key assets in the position will be the “very good relationship” he has with President Barack Obama.

“That’s important,” Korb said, and will allow candor “on options on Afghanistan.”

Korb said Dunford’s recent combat experience will add credibility to the independent advice he provides Obama as the U.S. faces tough security challenges including operations against the Islamic State, the number of troops in Afghanistan, and rising aggression from Russia and China.

Dunford, 59, served as commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan until mid-2014, when he was selected as to serve as the Marine Corps commandant.

Outgoing chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey spent the first morning after Dunford’s confirmation in such high spirits that he sang.

Dempsey and his wife, Deanie, were on stage at a Washington, D.C., hotel taking questions at a forum for military kids. Dempsey looked clearly relieved and appeared to be relishing the time. There were jokes about math teachers and a promise he later kept to sing an Irish ballad about a unicorn.

There were also serious moments.

“The hardest part of the job,” Dempsey told the group, is when the department has not ensured its men and women are best prepared for their missions.

“Most of the time we accomplish that task. On occasion we don’t,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking when you don’t.”

Dempsey plans to continue in his role until he retires Oct. 1, as Dunford and his team transition in.

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