Mullen Discusses Personnel Pluses, Concerns

WASHINGTON — Call­ing per­son­nel issues his great­est com­fort and great­est con­cern, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today praised U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers for the way they’ve adapt­ed over a decade of war.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told atten­dees at a Gov­ern­ment Exec­u­tive Mag­a­zine lead­er­ship brief­ing that while he is most proud of the flex­i­bil­i­ty and adapt­abil­i­ty of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary forces, he also is con­cerned that Amer­i­ca is los­ing touch with its mil­i­tary.

The expe­ri­ence in Iraq illus­trates the adapt­abil­i­ty of Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers, Mullen said, not­ing that when he took office in 2007, the U.S. surge into Iraq was under way and the lev­els of vio­lence in the coun­try were high and looked to be going higher. 

“I was there last week, and it is like night and day,” Mullen said. “There has tru­ly been an extra­or­di­nary shift and change and the cre­ation of an oppor­tu­ni­ty for 26 mil­lion peo­ple that just did­n’t exist. That came at a great price, and that [this has occurred] is a reflec­tion of our military’s abil­i­ty to adapt and change from the clas­sic con­ven­tion­al force to what I call the best coun­terin­sur­gency force in the world.” 

After 10 years of war and the mul­ti­ple deploy­ments that has entailed, the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to learn and adapt, Mullen said. 

A well-known strength of the U.S. mil­i­tary is that it’s an all-vol­un­teer, pro­fes­sion­al force, the chair­man said. But less well known is that it’s also a weak­ness, because only a small per­cent­age of the nation’s pop­u­la­tion has a first-hand mil­i­tary connection. 

“I do wor­ry about the con­nec­tion we have with the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” the chair­man said. “We’re less than 1 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, we come from few­er and few­er places, and I wor­ry about the things we don’t do any more.” 

The base realign­ment and clo­sure process has shut­tered many facil­i­ties, Mullen said, and that means ser­vice mem­bers no longer live in many neigh­bor­hoods around the coun­try where they once were part of the fabric. 

“We’re not in the church­es, coach­ing the teams, going to the schools,” he said. “So the rela­tion­ship or under­stand­ing [of the mil­i­tary] is often cre­at­ed by what’s in the media.” The mil­i­tary foot­print in the coun­try will not change, the chair­man said. “But America’s mil­i­tary must stay con­nect­ed with the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he added. “If we wake up one day and find out that we’re dis­con­nect­ed or almost dis­con­nect­ed, I think that’s a bad out­come for the country.” 

The Nation­al Guard and oth­er reserve com­po­nents are great avenues for con­nec­tions, he said. These ser­vice mem­bers are in every part of the coun­try and can explain the mil­i­tary to the greater pop­u­la­tion. Mullen said the mil­i­tary needs to use this avenue to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with America. 

The Amer­i­can peo­ple respect the mil­i­tary and want to reach out to sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines, Mullen said, but often are con­fused about how to do so. The Defense and Vet­er­ans Affairs depart­ments and local com­mu­ni­ties must work togeth­er to ease ser­vice mem­bers’ tran­si­tion to civil­ian com­mu­ni­ties when they leave the mil­i­tary, the nation’s top mil­i­tary offi­cer said. 

If they do, he added, the com­mu­ni­ties cer­tain­ly will get more than they give. 

“I say this gen­er­a­tion is ‘wired to serve,’ ” he said. “They are in their mid-20s, and they’ve seen some very dif­fi­cult times in some cas­es. But they offer great poten­tial for our coun­try, and with a lit­tle invest­ment, … they’ll take off and pro­vide decades of service.” 

Amer­i­cans also need to reach out to those wound­ed in the wars and the fam­i­lies of those killed, Mullen said, not­ing that these fam­i­lies lost their life­lines to the mil­i­tary when their spous­es died. The mil­i­tary needs to embrace these fam­i­lies, he said, and so do America’s communities. 

Final­ly, the chair­man repeat­ed a mes­sage he has empha­sized con­sis­tent­ly and repeat­ed­ly about the need for the mil­i­tary to remain apo­lit­i­cal. The U.S. mil­i­tary always is under civil­ian con­trol, and uni­formed mem­bers “need to be absolute­ly neu­tral,” Mullen said. 

“We serve the civil­ian lead­er­ship,” he said, “and we need to be very mind­ful of that and how we speak about it and engage, whether we are active or reserves.” 

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

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