Mullen Encouraged By Midwest ‘Conversation’

CLEVELAND, Aug. 27, 2010 — As Navy Adm. Mike Mullen con­clud­ed anoth­er install­ment of his “Con­ver­sa­tion with the Coun­try” tour here today, he said he’s ener­gized by how eager com­mu­ni­ty and busi­ness lead­ers are to “re-con­nect” with vet­er­ans.

“I have real­ly been encour­aged by the pos­i­tive response over the past three days,” the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a news con­fer­ence. “It val­i­dates the sea of good will which is out there.”

Mullen vis­it­ed in Cleve­land today, Detroit yes­ter­day and Chica­go on Aug. 25. Ear­li­er this sum­mer, he trav­eled to Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty in New York, as well as to Pitts­burgh and Mor­gan­town, W.Va.

This week, the nation’s top mil­i­tary offi­cer met with busi­ness exec­u­tives, and aca­d­e­m­ic and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers, and col­lege stu­dents. At each venue, he car­ried the same mes­sage: Reach out the nation’s vet­er­ans and help them inte­grate into their local com­mu­ni­ties. Vet­er­ans are a “remark­able” invest­ment, he said.

“Vet­er­ans have an enor­mous amount of poten­tial and an enor­mous amount to offer,” Mullen said at the Union Club of Cleve­land today. “I believe [vet­er­ans] are a group of peo­ple who have great promise.”

Vet­er­ans offer a mix­ture of skills, loy­al­ty, pro­fes­sion­al­ism, edu­ca­tion and life expe­ri­ence unmatched by most Amer­i­cans, he said. Most vet­er­ans tran­si­tion­ing out of the mil­i­tary still are very young, most­ly in their mid-20s, he added, not­ing that they have a lot of years left to make a dif­fer­ence for their com­mu­ni­ties.

“I look to busi­ness lead­ers to see how to take advan­tage of this great pool of tal­ent,” he said. “These young men and women are extra­or­di­nary peo­ple who offer a great deal of poten­tial.”

Mullen encour­aged lead­ers to brain­storm on ways to men­tor vet­er­ans who are bring­ing their skills and expe­ri­ence to their com­mu­ni­ties. Those ways, he sug­gest­ed, might include a sort of vet­er­an intern pro­gram. Even if employ­ers don’t have the means to hire, Mullen said, they cer­tain­ly can take vet­er­ans under their wings and help them in their tran­si­tion back to civil­ian life. And because an approach that would work in one com­mu­ni­ty may not work in anoth­er, Mullen added, only the peo­ple in any giv­en com­mu­ni­ty can know what will work based on the local sit­u­a­tion.

The mil­i­tary also stands to ben­e­fit in its recruit­ing efforts as vet­er­ans return to their com­mu­ni­ties, Mullen not­ed, as pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences tran­si­tion­ing vet­er­ans have could be encour­ag­ing for some­one think­ing about join­ing.

“If we get this right, the vet­er­ans become my recruit­ing com­mand,” he said. “The fam­i­lies become my recruit­ing com­mand, because they tell great sto­ries and young peo­ple hear them and make the deci­sion to come into the mil­i­tary.

“That’s one of the rea­sons this is so impor­tant,” he added. “If we don’t do this well, the oppo­site is true.”

Mullen said he is con­fi­dent com­mu­ni­ties will come through for their vet­er­ans, and he called for com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers to address their return­ing vet­er­ans’ needs and chal­lenges.

“There cer­tain­ly is a strong desire, pas­sion and appetite local­ly in com­mu­ni­ties I’ve vis­it­ed to do every­thing to get this right,” he said. “I hope in future months we can turn this from ideas to exe­cu­tion.”

It’s the nation’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to take care for those who serve and sac­ri­fice, he said.

“This is a sig­nif­i­cant pri­or­i­ty for me,” the admi­ral said. “In the end, there’s a pow­er­ful mes­sage here about how we take care of our peo­ple. There’s a pow­er­ful mes­sage that gets told in a very pos­i­tive way if we get this right in com­mu­ni­ties through­out the coun­try, which, in the long run, has a pret­ty sig­nif­i­cant impact on our recruit­ing effort.”

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

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