The afternoon before he delivered Duke's 2014 Commencement address, Gen. Martin Dempsey was already on campus, carrying out two duties in his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
First he presided over the commissioning ceremony for Duke students completing their studies in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He described the event at the Washington Duke Inn as "an emotional moment," saying, "to see the caliber of people willing to serve their country, particularly from an elite university ... it recharged my batteries."
Next Dempsey met with a room full of reporters representing local media outlets, national broadcast networks and the Duke Chronicle. He answered questions ranging from the recent kidnapping of girls in Nigeria to rising tensions in Ukraine, with much of the conversation focusing on possible military cutbacks in North Carolina. There will "probably" be layoffs at Fort Bragg, he said, but the facility's long-term future is "absolutely not" at risk.
Dempsey also voiced strong support for a colleague who, like himself, earned a master's degree in English at Duke long before he rose to military prominence. He described Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, a recent target of criticism, as "one of the most decent human beings who ever wore the uniform and ever served this country."
Dempsey, whose own master's thesis dealt with the Irish literary revival, joked about his academic background when describing as a "false dichotomy" the choice between two aircraft systems. "I'm an English major, so I apologize for going hard-core vocabulary on you," he said.
Ending the press conference precisely on time, as might be expected from a military general, he told the reporters he is looking forward to speaking the next morning to Duke's graduates: "Good to meet you all," he said on his way out the door. "I'll be looking forward to you grading my speech."
Below: Gen. Dempsey answers questions on foreign and military affairs. Photo by Chris Hildreth/Duke University Photography