Fletcher School alumnus General Joseph Dunford (F ’92) has begun his new role as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officer in the country. Dunford succeeds General Martin E. Dempsey, who officially retired on Oct. 1.
The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Dunford to the top military position on July 29, after President Obama nominated him, according to an article from the Military Times.
As the newly appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dunford’s role during his two-year term will be to advise the president on all aspects of military affairs, according to an article on Tufts Now.
“My role will be to assist the Secretary of Defense, the President and the Congress in making decisions that will result in a Joint Force [all the branches of the military] that is properly prepared to secure our interests today — and tomorrow,” Dunford said in the Tufts Now article.
At a ceremony in the Rose Garden in May, Obama talked about the high regard in which he holds Dunford.
“I know Joe. I trust him,” Obama said. “He’s already proven his ability to give me his unvarnished military advice based on his experience on the ground. [He’s] one of our military’s most highly regarded strategic thinkers.”
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Dunford said that the many threats to American security present him with a difficult agenda.
“I believe the biggest challenge facing the military in the next few years will be to address existent challenges while simultaneously building the force our nation will need in the future,” he said.
Dunford has called Russia the greatest threat to American security, according to Tufts Now.
“If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming,” he said.
Dunford left his job as commandant of the Marine Corps to assume his new position after serving in the Marines for many years. From early 2013 until August 2014, Dunford was in command of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. The general also previously commanded the 2nd Battalion of the 6th Marines, worked as vice director for operations on the Joint Staff, reported to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and led the 5th Marine Regiment during the Iraq War in 2003, according to the Tufts Now story.
Dunford also previously served under former Admiral James Stavridis, who is now the Dean of the Fletcher School, in Afghanistan.
“It was wonderful to have General Dunford, a proud Fletcher graduate, back on campus [recently],” Stavridis told the Daily in an email. “As the senior military officer of the United States, he is deeply influential in all elements of international policy.”
According to Fletcher Professor Richard Shultz, Dunford’s former professor and advisor at Tufts, Dunford’s potential was made evident by his promotion in the ranks by General James Conway, a former head of the Marine Corps.
“He was a one-star general, and the commandant of the Marine Corps,” Shultz said. “General Conway had a three-star job that he needed to put a two-star marine in. He looked at all of his two stars, and despite knowing that Dunford was a one-star, thought, ‘This guy will be more effective in this job than any of my two-stars,’ so General Conway promoted him from one star to three stars.”
Dunford’s promotion was an unusual occurrence, according to Shultz.
“This is impossible to believe; it never happens,” Shultz said. “An assistant professor doesn’t become a full-time professor without becoming an associate professor.”
According to Shultz, Dunford was born in Boston, Mass. and grew up in Quincy, Mass., where he studied at the prestigious Boston College High School. Dunford then graduated from Saint Michael’s College and received his commission as an officer shortly thereafter. He later attended the Marine Corps University as well as the Ranger School. Dunford continued his higher education with a Master of Arts degree from Georgetown University, and then a second Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School.
“[He was] about as down-to-earth a person as one can be,” Shultz said.
He added that Dunford was not a very intimidating man, which made him a good leader, and that Dunford’s intelligence permeated any community of which he was a part.
Dunford said that his time at Fletcher has helped him during his experiences in the military.
“I left Fletcher with a better understanding of the intersection of policy and strategy,” he told Tufts Now. “That understanding has been invaluable in my recent assignments in Afghanistan and Washington.”
While at Fletcher, Dunford received the Robert B. Stewart Award, which is awarded to an outstanding first-year student, according to Shultz. Dunford was also the top student in his class at Fletcher, receiving As in each of the eight courses he took.
“He is a perfect example of putting a Fletcher degree to use in a very practical way,” Stavridis said.