Al Messerschmidt—AP
April 15, 2015 1:08 PM EDT

General Martin Dempsey is truly a Renaissance man: an English major who is as comfortable singing Irish ballads as he is devising counterterrorism strategies or dealing with the mess left by sequestration. Dempsey’s time as Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff has been dominated by trips to the Hill to educate those who refuse to learn prior-war lessons.

Since graduating from West Point, he has faced traditional fights against the Soviet Union and nontraditional fights against al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS. His mastery of the kinetic battlefields of the past and today’s counterterrorism strategies makes him a war-weary President’s most trusted military adviser. His cavalryman’s lineage makes him the first post-Goldwater-Nichols Chairman to embody the true tenets of today’s joint warfare. And his ability to sing 162 Irish ballads from memory would make you wish you’d been coached by his grandmother.

Chiarelli retired as U.S. Army vice chief of staff in 2012

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