To say Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey has a tough job would be quite the understatement. As the top military advisor to the President of the United States, his decisions and actions affect not only the U.S. and its military, but the world as a whole and in turn the course of history. Needless to say, his job is bigger than a lot of things in this world, including sports.
But for Dempsey and his colleagues at the Pentagon, sports can sometimes present a unique dynamic to the office. Most of the military officials he works with are sports fans, particularly during college basketball season where everyone has an alma mater.
While there is always important work to be done, if a good game is coming to a close or if a must-see matchup is going on, the highest ranking officials of the U.S. military can sometimes turn into regular sports fans.
“We normally stream in whether it’s CNN or FOX or MSNBC. The big screens will be broken into squads. There will be 24/7 news,” Dempsey said. “But during March Madness, there will always be a game on. Or the Ryder Cup, or if there is baseball, so sure we can multi-task.”
Each colleague of Dempsey’s hails from a different part of the country as he works with a collection of the military’s brightest figures. They all have their own affiliations and loyalties, but working in Washington has led to them watching and attending games of local sports teams.
And of all the local D.C. teams, Dempsey says the Nationals have gained the most fans in the Pentagon. It has to do with the way they play and their dedication to supporting the military. The Nationals are active in outreach with the military and invite veterans to each of their home games. The Redskins, Capitals, and Wizards have similar programs and have veterans at their games as well.
“In the American League I’m a Yankee fan, I think I have to be careful saying that publicly here, but in the National League I have become a rabid Nationals fan,” Dempsey said.
“It started when I got to know them. First of all they are a very young team, they remember that it is a game, they play it like it’s a game. Their enthusiasm, they are humble, it’s very interesting. And in their enthusiasm and humility they have embraced the wounded warriors. There is always a group of wounded warriors here, they bring them to the early season introductions to the players, they visit them in the hospitals. So that sealed the deal as far as I’m concerned.”
Dempsey threw out the first pitch of Game 5 of the N.L. Division Series between the Nationals and Cardinals at Nats Park. When taking the mound he showed his sense of humor by removing his general uniform to unveil a number 18 Nationals jersey. Dempsey is the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
When asked if he was nervous throwing out the first pitch, before 45,000 fans at the biggest baseball game in D.C. in the better part of a century, Dempsey said it was no big deal. After all, when compared with commanding men in war no challenge is too big.
“I don’t do that for a living so I don’t put too much pressure on myself. I don’t necessarily gauge myself on success or failure on whether I throw a perfect strike,” he said. “I mean I clearly don’t want to fall of the mound or bounce it. But what I’m really out there to do is to be the face of the 1.4 million men and women in uniform that I represent and their families.”
The four star general is a baseball fan, but his first love is basketball. As a graduate of Duke University, his favorite team in sports is the Blue Devils.
Working closely with the President, Dempsey says sports come up from time to time in their more casual encounters. He and the Commander in Chief sometimes talk about basketball or as Dempsey describes it, “we’ll joust about that on occasion.”