Mullen: Nation Must Recognize Sacrifices of Troops, Families

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2010 — Amer­i­cans must rec­og­nize the sac­ri­fices and strug­gles of today’s troops and their fam­i­lies and work hard­er to rein­te­grate them into their com­mu­ni­ties, the nation’s top mil­i­tary offi­cer said yes­ter­day.

The past nine years of war and mul­ti­ple com­bat deploy­ments have stressed the force, leav­ing in their wake vet­er­ans and fam­i­lies who return home only to have to start putting their lives back togeth­er, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a USO Gala in Chica­go.

“These years of bat­tle have steeled them for an uncer­tain future, because when our men and women come home, the bat­tle does­n’t end,” Mullen said. “Quite frankly, for many it’s just the begin­ning.”

Mullen told the audi­ence that one of the rea­sons he and his wife trav­el the coun­try speak­ing at local events is to keep Amer­i­ca con­nect­ed to its troops. He said that many Amer­i­cans don’t real­ize what the troops and fam­i­lies go through to serve in the mil­i­tary, nor do they real­ize the val­ue they bring to their com­mu­ni­ties when they return home.

“We have to rec­og­nize our vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies for what they are: not a bur­den, but an oppor­tu­ni­ty,” he said. “They are tal­ent­ed, skilled lead­ers who have so much to offer and con­tribute to their com­mu­ni­ties, not only dur­ing their mil­i­tary ser­vice, but through­out their entire lives.

“I tru­ly believe that today’s return­ing war­riors and their fam­i­lies are the next great gen­er­a­tion,” Mullen said.

Mullen hailed the efforts of the USO and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions who have mobi­lized to pro­vide com­mu­ni­ty-based sup­port for vet­er­ans and fam­i­lies. Still, he said, more needs to be done. “Even with all the gen­eros­i­ty and good will, too many vet­er­ans and mil­i­tary fam­i­lies still strug­gle to receive all the sup­port they need,” he said.

Return­ing troops and vet­er­ans often strug­gle with phys­i­cal and men­tal injuries, anx­i­ety and depres­sion, he said. Their fam­i­ly dynam­ics are changed by the chal­lenges of post-trau­mat­ic stress.

Mullen said some vet­er­ans find it dif­fi­cult to trans­late their mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence into viable jobs and careers, not­ing that the job search is made even more dif­fi­cult dur­ing a strug­gling econ­o­my. The home­less­ness rates among today’s vet­er­ans are ris­ing past those of Viet­nam vet­er­ans, he said, and too many vet­er­ans con­sid­er sui­cide an option.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the pres­sures on these young men and women and the sac­ri­fices of their fam­i­lies — chal­lenges that all of us must help them shoul­der as they have already shoul­dered such bur­dens for us,” the chair­man said.

And it’s not just the return­ing vet­er­ans who need com­mu­ni­ty sup­port, Mullen not­ed. The fam­i­lies of ser­vice­mem­bers killed in com­bat also need help. “Not a moment goes by that I don’t think about the fam­i­lies of those who have paid the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice,” he said.

The USO and com­mu­ni­ties play a vital role in tap­ping into the skills of vet­er­ans, the admi­ral said, mobi­liz­ing sup­port for fam­i­lies and help­ing to build resilience against vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble wounds of war.

He recalled his time aboard ship as a young naval offi­cer, and said that at each port he would seek out the famil­iar USO sign.

“It seemed as though the USO was always there — every­where and any­where,” he said. “It felt as though the USO vol­un­teers were not just serv­ing us — they were serv­ing along­side us.”

But for all of the com­forts it pro­vides to troops over­seas, it is the con­nec­tion at home that makes the group most valu­able, Mullen said.

“It isn’t just a taste of home that you pro­vide. … It’s a sense of appre­ci­a­tion,” he said. “It’s know­ing that the peo­ple you fight for back home are fight­ing for you too.”

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

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