In a changing world, the U.S. military needs leaders to be “change agents,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told graduates of the Army War College today. 

The college at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, prepares officers and national security civilians for senior-level commands and/or responsibilities. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and retired Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the 19th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are just two graduates of the institution. 

Hicks told the graduates that the world is complicated and will require more from them than ever. China is the pacing challenge for the United States and will remain so for the foreseeable future, she said.  

Russia is “an acute threat to the international system, as illustrated by its ongoing cruel war of choice against Ukraine,” Hicks said, adding that the world still faces persistent regional threats — North Korea, Iran and violent extremist organizations.  

On top of these challenges are threats posed by climate change and pandemics that are sort of like “threat multipliers” that complicate all problems.  

“One trend I know you’ve observed from your studies is the rapidly changing character of warfare,” she said. “Now, [Prussian Gen. Carl von] Clausewitz warned that it is ever-changing, but today, that change is fueled by the accelerating pace of technology.” 

This doesn’t mean that the need for power on the ground ends, but it will mean that what landpower looks like will change, the deputy secretary said. She pointed to the Army’s Multi-Domain Task Forces and the Marine Littoral Regiments as two examples.  

She also pointed to service members and civilians “who are seizing opportunities to innovate every day — like using data and [artificial intelligence] to improve our decision advantage, leveraging commercial technologies to deliver capabilities to the warfighter at greater speed and scale, and crafting novel operational concepts for how to use those capabilities in ways that confound our competitors and achieve our missions in the battlespace.”  

The military is just part of the equation of deterrence, Hicks said. “Deterrence requires us to sharpen more than just the military tool of national power,” she said. “Today’s complex security challenges require whole-of-government solutions. In every region of the world, preserving and promoting peace demands that America also has a robust diplomatic corps, well-resourced development agencies, and a world-class intelligence community.”  

All this ensures deterrence will be effective, but it also means that leaders must look to change.  

“Those of you in uniform have been taught how to lead troops since before you commissioned,” she said. “Others have led teams at various times in your careers to date. That is still needed with more empathy, creativity and foresight than ever.  

“But at the same time, we also need you to help lead your branches, your services, your departments and agencies to ensure they keep pace with a changing world.” 

Leaders must embrace change and realize it cannot only be instituted from the top down, but from wherever it arises. “You can lead from anywhere, in any organization,” Hicks said. “So, from this point forward, take that as your charge. Be a change agent. As you shore up the institutional legacies you’ve inherited, shape and prepare them for what comes next.” 

The graduates will face novel challenges no one has anticipated. “You will be at the frontier of solving them,” she said.  

Hicks told the graduates to remember their education “and use it.” 

She told them to rely on the teammates they’ve met at Carlisle and call on them. “They’ve become your intellectual battle buddies, which means no future challenge need be yours alone to solve,” she said.  

Finally, Hicks told the graduates to “root yourself firmly in the values underpinning our democracy. Stay grounded in your commitment to healthy civil-military relations. Forge ties with those who have little direct knowledge of the military or public service. And live your oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

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