A three-star Air Force general with more than three decades of military experience met with Boys Nation senators on July 23 in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room. Lt. Gen. Mark F. Ramsay, the Joint Chief of Staff’s director of force structure, resources and assessment, gave the 98 high school students a succinct overview of the Department of Defense (DoD).
Before his current assignment, Ramsay commanded the 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Ill. He previously served with Headquarters U.S. European Command, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.
Ramsay welcomed the senators and thanked The American Legion, saying, “I am looking forward to joining your ranks.”
He said the Pentagon is “the world’s largest Fortune 500 company” that supports “the world’s premiere military force.” DoD’s annual budget is about $500 billion, Ramsay said, part of which pays three million employees (about 2.2 million are active duty, reserve or National Guard).
After explaining the DoD leadership structure and how the Joint Chiefs of Staff operates, Ramsay turned to what is happening now in DoD. “Our fiscal house is not good,” which means the department faces up to a 20 percent reduction in spending. As a result, force structure will be reduced by about 250,000 people, more Navy ships will be retired and more Air Force squadrons will be deactivated. “We have to trim modernization, and our readiness has gone down somewhat.”
Turning to a review of world news, Ramsay ticked off the wars, hostilities and potential enemies that pose – or may pose – a threat to America: the Afghanistan War, the latest Hamas-Israeli fight in Gaza, instability between Syria and Iraq, Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, the shooting down of aircraft by pro-Russian separatists, Chinese aggression in the Pacific, North Korea’s rogue regime, and Iran’s nuclear program.
“It’s a pretty difficult landscape,” Ramsay said, “and then you throw in the cyber-dimension.” Cyber-warfare is ascendant in the 21st century, and internet/cell phone technology has empowered terrorists groups around the planet.
Ramsay then asked for questions from the Boys Nation senators.
Adam Fortier-Brown of Randolph, Maine, asked what the greatest military threat that America will face is. Ramsay said that when he joined the military in 1982, there was one major threat to the United States: the Soviet Union. “That threat vaporized before you were born," he said. "Now we have to deal with much more; it is a far more complex scenario.”
Andrew Morrison of Dover, Del., asked Ramsay how he rose in the Air Force ranks to become a three-star general. “We call it ‘bloom where you are planted,’" he replied. “And the rest is all luck.”
Discussing ways in which DoD could become more efficient in the age of budget cuts, Ramsay said, “You name it and we have cut it – about $350 billion so far for the next 10 years.” He said a lot more conferences are held via Skype these days.
Joseph Walker of Alaska asked about DoD’s relationship with the National Security Agency in combating terrorism. “NSA (National Security Agency) looks for nefarious characters and the president has a lot of tools in his toolbox to deal with them,” Ramsay said. Those tools include the NSA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and Armed Forces assets such as Special Forces. “We’re one cog in a big wheel. We do what the politicians tell us to do.”
Reed Johnson of Dickinson, N.D., said he was applying to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and wondered what his role would be in a military force that is shrinking. “Your role is not going to change – the force size will be changing," said Ramsay. "But there will be even more opportunities for you, in cyber and space warfare.”
Ramsay said the United States has a “passive agreement with the rest of the world that space would be peaceful,” except for China. “So that is the challenge.” He said the cyberworld belongs essentially to the NSA, but DoD has a working relationship with them in that arena, as well. He said that cyberspace and outer space will both be “big domains” in warfare of the future.