USA — Building Resilience Must Start at Basic Training, Mullen Says

WASHINGTON — Lead­er­ship that builds resilience in ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies start­ing with the first day of basic train­ing is essen­tial to the U.S. military’s future, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

“That kind of invest­ment up front will pre­vent us from the expen­di­ture of a huge num­ber of resources down the road,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the audi­ence of 600 peo­ple at the Defense Cen­ters of Excel­lence for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Health and Trau­mat­ic Brain Injury’s third annu­al War­rior Resilience Con­fer­ence in Arling­ton, Va.

The conference’s “Total Force Fit­ness” theme sup­ports a joint strat­e­gy to build resilience for ser­vice mem­bers’ mul­ti­di­men­sion­al and holis­tic fit­ness.

“This is as impor­tant as who we are, where we are and what we need to do with respect to the future as any­thing we have,” Mullen said.

The need for resilience emerged over time, the chair­man said, and it’s only going to grow.

“We’re going to see a set of prob­lems we’ve been stuff­ing away in com­part­ments that we didn’t want to deal with that are poten­tial­ly going to rise dra­mat­i­cal­ly in terms of sever­i­ty and sheer num­bers,” he said. “We need to attack that issue, not just wait for it to show up.”

Mullen not­ed that Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. has talked about lead­er­ship tak­ing care of ser­vice mem­bers when they’re home, “which is some­thing we haven’t been focused on in a long time.”

The chair­man said he recent­ly vis­it­ed Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., not­ing that the 35,000 troops there rep­re­sent the largest num­ber of ser­vice mem­bers sta­tioned there in a long time.

“It struck me that the only ones who knew any­thing about [that kind of lead­er­ship] were the E-8s and E-9s. … They took care of that lead­er­ship at a time when we hadn’t done that kind of lead­er­ship for almost a decade,” Mullen said.

But that group even­tu­al­ly will rotate out or retire in the next few years, he added.

“We are in a race to pro­vide gar­ri­son lead­er­ship that is crit­i­cal to our future to those sol­diers and air­men, there [and] across the board,” the chair­man said. Ser­vice mem­bers who now are home between deploy­ments for twice as long as has been the case over the last decade will present chal­lenges that “deeply pen­e­trate” them and their fam­i­lies, Mullen said, call­ing it a fun­da­men­tal change that also alters the mean­ing of total force fit­ness.

A men­tal health assess­ment team that has gone into the com­bat the­ater about a half dozen times to look at the troops’ men­tal health recent­ly briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chair­man said.

“The mes­sage that came out is we’re bet­ter than we’ve been, and in some ways sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter,” he said. “We have been able to build resilience in ways a cou­ple years ago we didn’t under­stand an awful lot about.”

And while much still is unknown, he added, the ser­vices will be “in the ad hoc world with respect to that until we sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly approach ‘This is one way to do that.’” Mullen told the group he fre­quent­ly address­es men­tal health and resilience and feels pas­sion­ate about it is because the military’s future is at stake. He not­ed that over the next few weeks, the fis­cal 2012 defense bud­get will be a hot top­ic in the nation’s cap­i­tal.

“We’ll talk about our peo­ple, but often­times the con­ver­sa­tion gets dom­i­nat­ed by the ‘stuff,’” he said. “If we don’t get it right for our peo­ple and put togeth­er the kind of capa­bil­i­ties we have, … it won’t make any dif­fer­ence what we get.”

Many good peo­ple are leav­ing the mil­i­tary, the chair­man said, and the nation can’t afford for that to con­tin­ue. “The impact of that will be long-term, sig­nif­i­cant, and it won’t mat­ter what kind of [bud­get] we have com­ing,” he said.

Anoth­er con­cern the chair­man dis­cussed is what he calls an “unwill­ing­ness to reach out to the best there is.”

“Many of us think we are the best there is, and I under­stand that and want pro­fes­sion­als who think that way,” he said. “But the best there is needs to lis­ten to some­body else who’s the best there is. Too often, we’re far too lim­it­ed in our will­ing­ness to look in oth­er places [or] to lis­ten to break­throughs that occurred some­where else [that] may apply to us. “This has to do with the speed, the open­ness and the urgency to get at the chal­lenges that exist,” he con­tin­ued. “We can­not rest on our sta­tus quo, no mat­ter how good we think we are or some­body else says we are. There’s change that’s con­stant­ly occur­ring [that is] par­tic­u­lar­ly invig­o­rat­ing and a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge.”

Change must be led by lead­ers to make a dif­fer­ence, Mullen said, not­ing that with the active involve­ment of lead­ers, the best prac­tices can be extend­ed into the Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment and into the com­mu­ni­ties where vet­er­ans live.

Mullen acknowl­edged that more work needs to be done to improve the tran­si­tion for ser­vice mem­bers’ care when they sep­a­rate from the mil­i­tary.

“We have a sys­tem that’s incred­i­bly stovepiped — that says while you’re on active duty or while you’re wear­ing a uni­form, the Depart­ment of Defense takes care of you. After that, the VA takes care of you. And after that, the VA turns you over to com­mu­ni­ties and says, ‘Have a nice life,’” Mullen said. “So we take our most pre­cious resources, [the] peo­ple we care about so much while they’re here, and we turn them over to oth­er stovepipes and hope it goes well.”

Break­ing down those stovepipes is essen­tial, the chair­man said, so vet­er­ans “who made such a dif­fer­ence, who sac­ri­ficed incred­i­bly, are well tak­en care of for the rest of their lives.”

Total fit­ness through indi­vid­u­als to their fam­i­lies and their expe­ri­ences real­ly is the mes­sage of today, the chair­man said. “Build­ing that to the best pos­si­ble lev­el we can pos­si­bly build it is absolute­ly required,” he added.

Mullen urged the audi­ence to tack­le the issues, under­stand solu­tions that might exist, and adopt the best prac­tices until some­thing else comes along – keep­ing in mind those whose lives are changed for­ev­er and the fam­i­lies of the fall­en.

“As one sur­viv­ing spouse told me, ‘On Mon­day, I was in the Army. On Tues­day, I was gone,’” the chair­man said. “We need to make sure that does not hap­pen any­where. They sac­ri­ficed too much, and they’re too spe­cial.”

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

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