Mullen: Veterans Offer ‘Enormous’ Potential

CHICAGO — Mil­i­tary vet­er­ans bring a wealth of skills and life expe­ri­ence to their com­mu­ni­ties, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yes­ter­day, under­scor­ing his desire to ensure a bet­ter future for vet­er­ans return­ing from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Executives' Club of Chicago
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, address­es mem­bers of the Exec­u­tives’ Club of Chica­go, Aug. 25, 2010. Mullen is on three-day Mid­west tour to meet with civic and busi­ness lead­ers to dis­cuss the needs of return­ing troops and their fam­i­lies. He calls the tour “Con­ver­sa­tions with the Coun­try.” DoD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met with local busi­ness exec­u­tives, vet­er­ans who own small busi­ness­es and Chica­go May­or Richard Daley, advo­cat­ing the “enor­mous” poten­tial of vet­er­ans.

Today’s vet­er­ans are of a “gen­er­a­tion who is flat-out wired to con­tribute, flat-out wired to serve,” he told the Exec­u­tives’ Club of Chica­go. “They are the foun­da­tion of our coun­try. They rep­re­sent the best of the best.”

Chica­go was the first stop for the chair­man on a three-day “Con­ver­sa­tion with the Coun­try” tour across the Mid­west. The trip is geared toward help­ing com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers, busi­ness lead­ers and aca­d­e­mics real­ize the tal­ents today’s vet­er­ans have to offer as they inte­grate into the nation’s work force and edu­ca­tion sys­tems.

“[Vet­er­ans] have an enor­mous amount of poten­tial and an enor­mous amount to offer,” the admi­ral said. “What I hope to do is inspire local lead­er­ship to put togeth­er a mod­el to meet the needs of those [vet­er­ans] who are com­ing back.”

The same out­reach plan prob­a­bly won’t work in every com­mu­ni­ty, he added, but each plan should be cen­tered on edu­ca­tion, employ­ment and health needs.

Com­mu­ni­ties across the nation want to reach out to the vet­er­an com­mu­ni­ty, Mullen said, and vet­er­ans want the oppor­tu­ni­ty for edu­ca­tion and employ­ment to take care of their fam­i­lies.

Offi­cials of the Defense and Vet­er­ans Affairs depart­ments are active­ly seek­ing new ini­tia­tives to help this cause, Mullen said, but that’s not enough.

“We tran­si­tion vet­er­ans to VA for ben­e­fits, then to their com­mu­ni­ties,” he explained. “Too often, we do that and say, ‘Have a nice life.’ ”

Get­ting America’s com­mu­ni­ties involved is the only way to reach out effec­tive­ly to vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies, he said. The Defense Depart­ment, VA and local com­mu­ni­ties need to be bet­ter linked for the sake of the vet­er­ans, he added.

“Vet­er­ans are return­ing from these wars, and their dreams haven’t changed a bit,” he said. “They’d like to get an edu­ca­tion. They’d like to raise a fam­i­ly. They’d like to own a home, and cer­tain­ly they’d like to be con­tribut­ing mem­bers of soci­ety.”

Most of these vet­er­ans are in their 20s with high­ly val­ued expe­ri­ence and dis­ci­pline, Mullen said, and can have a pos­i­tive effect in their work set­tings and their com­mu­ni­ties for many years to come.

“These are indi­vid­u­als with match­less life expe­ri­ence,” Mullen said. “I need local lead­er­ship to not let them fall through the cracks.” Mullen said his goal is to inspire com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers to con­nect with the Defense Depart­ment and VA and to stream­line their efforts to facil­i­tate the tran­si­tion for ser­vice­mem­bers return­ing to civil­ian life.

Amer­i­cans sup­port their ser­vice­mem­bers even though they may not sup­port the wars they fight in, the chair­man not­ed, and the sac­ri­fices ser­vice­mem­bers make inspire him to work hard to reach out to their com­mu­ni­ties.

“There’s more than 1 mil­lion who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thou­sands and thou­sands come back to com­mu­ni­ties and can con­tribute so much,” he said. “Those who serve are extra­or­di­nary peo­ple. Those that don’t know us, take a chance. It’s worth the risk.”

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

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