Mullen: Leadership Key to Nation’s, Military’s Future

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2011 — Because lead­ers at all lev­els are key to U.S. suc­cess, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a CNN inter­view broad­cast yes­ter­day, his main con­cern is ensur­ing the mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to devel­op and encour­age great lead­ers for the coun­try.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told Fareed Zakaria on the “GPS” pro­gram that America’s tough­est prob­lems are solved by great lead­ers. The chair­man gave the inter­view in Novem­ber, but the net­work did­n’t broad­cast this por­tion of the inter­view until yes­ter­day.

“As I become more senior, … one of the things I wor­ry about the most is how do I stay in touch with those that I affect the most,” Mullen said.

The chair­man not­ed that he meets wound­ed war­riors at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter here and at the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter in Bethes­da, Md. In addi­tion, he said, he and his wife, Deb­o­rah, go to Dover Air Force Base, where the remains of fall­en war­riors return to the Unit­ed States, “to meet those fam­i­lies and to face the most dif­fi­cult part of it.” “We attend the funer­als at Arling­ton [Nation­al Ceme­tery],” he added. “We meet with the … fam­i­lies of the fall­en. I cer­tain­ly intend to be there for them.”

The chair­man also meets ser­vice mem­bers in the field. His most-recent trip to Afghanistan took him to Mar­ja in Hel­mand province and to For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Wil­son in Kan­da­har province.

“Local com­man­ders in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly want me out in the mid­dle of the fight, and I can under­stand that,” he said. “But when I vis­it, I try to get as far into that as I can, because one of the things that’s been a lead­er­ship prin­ci­ple for me for­ev­er is … I want to under­stand as much as I can about what I’m ask­ing a young man or a young woman to do, includ­ing to die for our coun­try.”

That impe­tus, he said, is “just in my soul. I need to do that.” The need, he added, comes from feel­ing account­able for their lives.

Mullen also spoke about lead­er­ship at the senior lev­el, which he said requires a dif­fer­ent set of capa­bil­i­ties.

“Anoth­er thing that I try to sub­scribe to, par­tic­u­lar­ly as I’ve got­ten more senior is lis­ten­ing, learn­ing and lead­ing,” he said. “The more senior I’ve become, the more I try to lis­ten to oth­ers and to see chal­lenges and prob­lems through oth­er people’s eyes, whether they are ser­vice chiefs, com­bat­ant com­man­ders or … mil­i­tary lead­ers through­out the world.”

Still, Mullen said, he is not shy about mak­ing deci­sions and push­ing the team for­ward.

The chair­man said he is con­cerned about the mil­i­tary retain­ing the right kind of offi­cer and non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer lead­er­ship in the future. The military’s young, mid-grade offi­cers and NCOs have deployed repeat­ed­ly, he not­ed, and are the most com­bat-test­ed force in U.S. his­to­ry.

“They are excep­tion­al in what they’ve done,” he said. “And if we retain them in our mil­i­tary in the right pro­por­tion, the right num­bers, then our mil­i­tary is going to be fine for the future, and it’s going to be fine because they will lead us.”

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

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