WASHINGTON — Resources for women in the military services are lagging those of men, and the military system does not yet understand the unique challenges of women in uniform, the top U.S. military officer said here today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to several hundred participants in the U.S. Institute of Peace Women and War Conference.
“As we celebrate the doors that have been opened to our women in uniform and honor the impact they have had around the world,” he said, “we also have to look very hard at doors that are still closed.”
The conference, which began yesterday and runs through tomorrow, is examining links among women, peace and security in war zones and after conflicts. It also is marking the 10th anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000 to reaffirm the role of women in preventing and resolving conflicts.
“I am privileged to serve alongside some of the most accomplished, most influential women in this country,” Mullen said. “I rely on their talent and counsel every single day.” The chairman mentioned Army Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the first female four-star general, and Navy Vice Adm. Ann Rondeau, who serves on the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace, and predicted that more women would rise to the top ranks.
“Ann Dunwoody may be our first four-star female in this nation’s history,” he said, “but I can promise you that many more are on the way.”
Mullen said he was on staff at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976 when “a telegram came from Washington telling us that women were on their way to Annapolis.”
“Congress did the right thing,” he said, “even though we couldn’t.”
Eighty-one women entered the academy that first year and later entered a military that was less than 5 percent female.
“Today, women are rising through our ranks and expanding their influence at an ever-increasing rate, serving magnificently all over the world in all sorts of ways,” Mullen said.
“And each time we open new doors to their professional lives, we end up wondering, ‘Why did it take us so long?’ ”
More than 200,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he noted, demonstrating resilience, adaptability and a capacity for innovation.
Mullen said women have given the services a “competitive advantage” in Iraq through outreach to local women who were helping to subvert security checkpoints, and in Afghanistan, where female Marines have formed engagement teams that operate in Taliban strongholds.
Despite laws excluding women from combat roles, “I’d be hard-pressed to say that any woman who serves in Afghanistan today or who served in Iraq over the last few years did so without facing the same risks of their male counterparts,” Mullen said.
“Time and time again,” he added, “they show us that courage and leadership recognize no gender.”
The chairman noted that today’s asymmetric warfare means there’s no clear delineation between the front lines and the sidelines. “This will be the first generation of veterans where large segments of women returning will have been exposed to some form of combat,” he said.
Women are returning from war with the same visible and invisible wounds as men, and “they’re also coming home to Dover,” Mullen said, referring to Dover Air Force Base, Del., where the remains of U.S. servicemembers killed in combat arrive in the United States.
More than 100,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, Mullen said, and almost 4,000 are from today’s generation. Ten percent of those seeking help for homelessness are women. “Many of these women have young children who have already been through so much,” he said. “This is something that deeply troubles me.”
Mullen said he and his wife, Deborah, recently welcomed their first granddaughter into the family, prompting him to think about how the benefits that women bring to the military, U.S. efforts across the globe and addressing the cost of war all have implications for the future.
“The recruits and young officers we bring in [to military service] today will be the four-star leaders of tomorrow, 30 years into the future,” he said. “That’s why when it comes to diversity, I believe we can’t go fast enough.
“In 2040, when our granddaughter turns 30,” he continued, “we will need a military leadership that is truly reflective of and connected to the American people. And let’s face it, when that day comes and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of 2040 looks at her leadership team, those of us who are still here will not want to have to answer the question, ‘What took you so long back in 2010?’ ”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)