American Support Boosts Troop Morale, Mullen Says

CHICAGO — At last night’s Major League Base­ball game between the Chica­go White Sox and the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles here, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of staff couldn’t help but notice the dif­fer­ence between the nation’s sup­port for today’s ser­vice­mem­bers and vet­er­ans and the recep­tion return­ing ser­vice­mem­bers received when they came home from Viet­nam ear­ly in his mil­i­tary career.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greets Army Capt. Scott Leifk­er dur­ing a game between the Chica­go White Sox and the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles at U.S. Cel­lu­lar Field in Chica­go, Aug. 25, 2010. Leifk­er was severe­ly burned in a car bomb explo­sion in Iraq in 2006. Mullen is on three-day Mid­west tour to meet with local civic and busi­ness lead­ers to dis­cuss the needs of return­ing troops and their fam­i­lies, and how com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers can sup­port them.
DoD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
Click to enlarge

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen threw out the cer­e­mo­ni­al first pitch before the game and he also helped the host White Sox hon­or sol­diers from a local Army Reserve unit.

Forty years ago, at the height of the Viet­nam War, Amer­i­ca didn’t sup­port its troops, Mullen said. There was no tick­er­tape parade when they returned from bat­tle, and sto­ries of Viet­nam vet­er­ans being ridiculed in the streets by pro­tes­tors were all too com­mon.

The ten­sion was so bad, Mullen said, that some ser­vice­mem­bers were even ashamed to wear their uni­forms. Mullen wit­nessed such dis­plays first hand, he not­ed, say­ing that’s just the way things were when he began his career in 1968.

Mullen, a Viet­nam War vet­er­an, has spent the past three years over­see­ing the war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. When the wars kicked off in 2001 and 2003, respec­tive­ly, he said, one of his ini­tial fears was that the Amer­i­can peo­ple might not sup­port the troops.

“As some­one who grew up [dur­ing the Viet­nam War] and saw a com­plete dis­con­nect between our men and women in uni­form and the Amer­i­can peo­ple, [the lev­el of sup­port] was a huge con­cern for me when these wars start­ed,” he said. “It was ter­ri­ble dur­ing Viet­nam. It was real­ly bad how troops were treat­ed.”

But today, mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies are well sup­port­ed, he not­ed. Though many do not sup­port the wars, the Amer­i­can pub­lic has nev­er lost sight of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of ser­vice­mem­bers and their sac­ri­fices, the chair­man said.

Some 1 mil­lion troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or both. More than 5,500 have giv­en their lives. Tens of thou­sands suf­fer from vis­i­ble wounds or from invis­i­ble wounds such as post-trau­mat­ic stress or oth­er psy­cho­log­i­cal injuries.

Mullen often tells troops and civil­ians dur­ing his trav­els that every troop who deploys to com­bat poten­tial­ly has some sort of psy­cho­log­i­cal war wound. Peo­ple are con­cerned, he said, and Amer­i­cans want to reach out and make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of troops and vet­er­ans.

Chica­go was the first stop for Mullen on a three-day “Con­ver­sa­tion with the Coun­try” tour across the Mid­west. The trip is geared toward help­ing com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers, busi­ness lead­ers and aca­d­e­mics real­ize the tal­ents today’s vet­er­ans have to offer as they inte­grate into the civil­ian work force and edu­ca­tion sys­tems.

“I have found that the Amer­i­can peo­ple through­out the coun­try are anx­ious to help sup­port these men and women,” he said. “Try­ing to make that con­nec­tion between those of us who depend on and lead these pre­cious peo­ple and the sea of good will out there is what this is all about.”

Mullen has worked to help hun­dreds of civic and busi­ness lead­ers and out­reach groups across the nation — on this trip and oth­ers – to gain a bet­ter under­stand­ing of vet­er­ans in their com­mu­ni­ties.

“There’s a lev­el of knowl­edge about what we’re going through, about the chal­lenge we have,” said the chair­man explained. “I want to make sure that infor­ma­tion is out there, and that there is a way for us as lead­ers inside the mil­i­tary to con­nect with lead­ers through­out the coun­try to make sure we can take care of these peo­ple.”

Mullen not­ed the ova­tion the Army Reserve sol­diers received dur­ing the game. The cheers from thou­sands of fans at U.S. Cel­lu­lar Field were hum­bling, the troops said. Chil­dren ran and point­ed to them and to uni­formed mem­bers of Mullen’s trav­el­ing par­ty.

The ser­vice­mem­bers even had their own cheer­ing sec­tion. One moth­er com­ment­ed that her young son seemed more excit­ed to see “you guys in uni­form that the ball play­ers.” “The morale boost ser­vice­mem­bers get from this is great,” Mullen said. “Just know­ing that peo­ple care about them makes a huge dif­fer­ence.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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