Army Maj. Chris Dempsey, his voice breaking with emotion, read the retirement orders for his father, now-former Joint Chiefs chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Maj. Dempsey and his sisters Megan and Caitlin, who have also worn the uniform, their mother, Deanie, and Dempsey's mother, Sarah, all were recognized by President Obama as he thanked the entire Dempsey family for their service to the country, in the Sept. 25 ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia.
Amid the full honors, the praises for Martin Dempsey's important work as a leader in steering the military through turbulent times, the striking presence of the military family was stamped firmly on the ceremony, issuing a powerful message about Dempsey's deep devotion not only to his own family, but to all military families. Those who spoke praised him for his commitment to troops and their loved ones.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter described the "wonderful team" of Dempsey and his wife, Deanie. Carter went so far as to quote Irish poet W.B.Yeats in noting that for the Dempseys, there are truly no strangers in the military family — only friends not yet met.
Obama also talked of Dempsey as a stalwart friend to troops and families across the military, and noted that Deanie Dempsey's grace and resilience embody the military spouses she fights for.
Obama also spoke of the bond forged between Dempsey and the children of the fallen, with whom he has spent time each of the last four years at seminars organized by Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The first year, Obama noted, Dempsey was so overcome with emotion, thinking about the lives ahead of the children without one of their parents, that he was unable to speak — so he sang.
So it seemed only fitting that the person who introduced Dempsey at his farewell ceremony was 9-year-old Elizabeth "Lizzy" Yaggy, daughter of Marine Maj. David Yaggy, killed March 14, 2008, in an aviation accident near Asheville, Alabama. Lizzy, just 1 year old when her father died, introduced Dempsey as her friend, as she also has done at TAPS events.
Dempsey made it a point to attend other events for military families as well — including Operation Homefront's annual celebration honoring the Military Child of the Year from each service, and the Military Child Education Coalition national seminars. This year, at the MCEC seminar, he sang "The Unicorn Song" with Deanie and the military children onstage.
Every leader's concern for military families begins at home, with his or her own family. As Dempsey and his wife walked across the parade field after the farewell ceremony, corralling their nine young grandchildren and glowing with pride, it was crystal clear where his priorities have been, are and always will be.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is joined by his wife and grandchildren at the conclusion of his retirement ceremony on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Arlington, Va., on Sept. 25.
Photo Credit: Myles Cullen/Defense Department