Military families are an important part of our nation's strength, said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford – and at the core of that message was his own personal example.

"I could never have remained on active duty without the support of Ellyn and the children," Dunford said. "And we couldn't, as a family, have stayed together without the support of many others."

Dunford spoke at the National Military Family Association's leadership luncheon Tuesday, and noted that the organization is "at the top of the list" of organizations that offer support to military families, from being advocates to offering programs like scholarships for spouses and camps for children of troops who are deployed, and children of the wounded.

His own family experienced the challenges of the military lifestyle – he watched his daughter's college graduation on live-stream video, and his oldest son moved to a new school for his senior year in high school. But Dunford said he believes his children have a degree of resilience and perspective gained from being military children. The values and commitment of the people his children were exposed to has made a difference, too, he said, because his children grew up in the military community watching people do the right thing.

The armed forces "couldn't possibly do what we do without military families," he said. "Were it not for the strength of our families, were it not for the willingness to sacrifice, our nation wouldn't be safe. I wouldn't be able to say to you with confidence that we can protect our nation and our way of life without the willingness of families to sacrifice."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford addresses the 2016 National Military Family Association (NMFA) Leadership Luncheon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2016. Dunford, pictured here with his wife Ellyn, spoke about the challenges facing military families and the positive impact organizations like NMFA have on the military community.

Photo Credit: D. Myles Cullen/DoD

Dunford said it's important for military families, America's allies and enemies alike to understand that the U.S. military has a competitive advantage over any potential adversary.

"Our number one responsibility we have with regards to quality of life is to bring the men and women home alive," he said. "That does not mean the chiefs and I don't speak candidly about the challenges we have…. But 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 we're not the most professional, most competent, most capable force in the world.

"Because we are. But our men and women in uniform don't accomplish that by themselves," he said, noting that 51 percent of the force is married and another 6 percent are single parents.

No nation recognizes the importance of military families more than the U.S. does, he said. And part of that is due to lessons learned during the Vietnam War. Like NMFA, many military and veterans support organizations were formed in response to gaps in the treatment and support of military families during that time.

The 15th anniversary of the start of operations in Afghanistan was just observed Oct. 7. Dunford noted many people would have said at the beginning of that conflict, "There's no way we can do this for 15 years. There's no way we can continue to recruit and retain high quality people. ... There's no way families could sustain that type of sacrifice. 

"But they have. And the reason is the people in this room." 

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at .

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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