Mullen: Military Lags in Support of Women Warriors

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) 

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