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Jim R. Bounds, Associated Press
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey delivers remarks at the Ambassador S. Davis Phillips Family International Lecture at Duke University in Durham, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012.

DURHAM, N.C. — The new strategy for the nation's military balances principle and pragmatism, the nation's highest-ranking military officer said Thursday at Duke University in his first public speech since the plan was announced last week.

Last week, Gen. William Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined with President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta changes aimed at shaping a more flexible military force for the future that also cuts troop levels for the Army and Marines.

"First, I want you to know it's a real strategy," Dempsey said. "It's not just a dusted-off, polished-up and marginally edited cousin of its former strategies. We've made some real choices. We've taken real ownership of it."

Dempsey, who earned a master's degree in English from Duke, spoke as part of a lecture series. His speech displayed his education at the school, referring to poets William Blake and William Butler Yeats. He also reflected on his time as a student by mentioning a popular off-campus bar.

Dempsey repeatedly said the military is not being victimized by the changes.

"We clearly have a role to play, all of us as citizens, in helping the nation address this economic crisis," he said.

The strategy, he said, "is something that we, the joint chiefs, have embraced as what's best for America."

It shifts geographic focus by putting more emphasis on the Pacific but doesn't mean that the U.S. is abandoning its traditional strategic partners in Europe, he said. Instead, the U.S. must work to build up the capabilities of those nations, he said.

"So we will shift our view of where the strategic challenges are emerging," Dempsey said.

He addressed the issue of how the United States has for decades had the "two-war construct" or the plan to be ready to fight two nearly simultaneous wars. By giving up that plan, the military isn't saying that it will be ready to fight just one war, he said.

"The nation doesn't need a military that can only do one thing," Dempsey said. "The nation needs a military that can do multiple — multiple — things at the same time ..."

It can be done, he said.

"We've actually freed ourselves from the tyranny of language associated with a two-war construct," he said. .