MANHATTAN, Kan. - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday he wants to increase the national conversation about war veterans and how they're treated and regarded in society.
Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke to a large audience of soldiers, faculty and students at Kansas State University. He said he believes the nation has a positive image of its military men and women and that there is a conversation taking place about how to help veterans reintegrate with work, school and their families.
"I want to turn up the volume," Dempsey said.
Dempsey said that, after many years of war, it's important for veterans and the nation to talk about the role of those who have served, where they fit in society and whether they're regarded as heroes, victims or average citizens.
The general said that many organizations had increased their efforts over the past four years to help link veterans with colleges and employers.
Dempsey graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1974 as the Vietnam War was winding down. He said he doesn't believe the public views its current generation of veterans with the same disdain they held for Vietnam veterans.
But the general wants to renew the focus and conversation, especially with the war in Iraq over, the war in Afghanistan winding down and a downsizing of the military on the horizon.
"We ought to have that conversation," Dempsey said.
He said he believes future military action will be decentralized conflicts to which the nation sends smaller groups of soldiers to battle, unlike most wars in U.S. history.
"I just don't want to wake up one day and decide that I should have had a conversation with America before it occurs," he said.
Dempsey said that one of the lessons from the recent wars was that "protracted conflicts" make it harder to sustain interest.
"That's a long time to maintain interest in distant conflicts," he said.
Dempsey's speech was part of Kansas State's Landon Lecture series. The general also planned to visit with soldiers at nearby Fort Riley, home of the 1st Infantry Division. About 750 soldiers attended his lecture.