BAGHDAD, Aug. 2, 2011 — The men and women gathered in the apse of the Al-Faw Palace here spoke volumes of what the United States military has become.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Defense Department civilians gathered to hear and to ask questions of America’s highest-ranking military officer. Their service together in the headquarters for U.S. Forces Iraq signified how far the joint force has come.
One young sailor asked Navy Adm. Mike Mullen how to capture the lessons learned about operating jointly, and the question clearly energized the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Through the course of two wars, we have built an incredibly joint force in ways that many of us could not have imagined,” Mullen said. “I love each service to death – the ethos and culture that each service has. It’s a critical part of who we are as a military.”
But the military has found that if the services work together, they can accomplish a lot more and can eliminate duplication, he said. “We can see best practices and ideas from other services that sometimes make us scratch our head and ask why we weren’t doing that,” he added.
Those who turned the situation around in Iraq and those who are turning the tables on the Taliban in Afghanistan have depended on members of other services to a degree never seen in American history, the chairman noted, acknowledging that getting to this point has not been easy.
Today, he said, everyone praises the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 for the way it brought jointness to the forefront. But it was a tough sell at all levels of the military, he recalled, and only the vast prestige of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater put the law on the books.
“It really took us about 10 to 15 years [after the law took effect] that we moved in the joint direction,” Mullen said. “It was really these conflicts that made us joint.” And this needs to continue, the chairman added.
“We need to leverage not only what has happened here, but recognize the importance and opportunity in places like cyber, like space, [and] in intelligence,” he said. “As we get smaller as an institution, that mandates that we work more closely together. In returning to our services, you can’t forget what you learned.”
Mullen said that when he was chief of naval operations, he moved sailors onto the shore and into the combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did it because the sailors could contribute to the effort ashore, he explained, and they also would learn how to operate jointly — and that they would return to the fleet “and plant the seed that would change the Navy.”
The American military has built capabilities that are extraordinary, Mullen said. “Things we didn’t know we needed when this began, we now have — whether it is intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities or force protection or intelligence and operations systems that feed each other so we can be much quicker to the fight.”
When the wars began, those in the military spoke about the speed of war, the chairman said, noting that the U.S. military was lagging behind a nimble and adroit terror group.
“That’s no longer the case,” he said. “Not only have we caught up with them, we’ve gotten ahead of them. We went from a classic conventional force to the best counterinsurgency force the world has ever seen, and we did it on the fly, we did it in stride, we did it in the fight.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)