WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2010 — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today offered a warning of what to expect for veterans, the military services and the nation after a decade of war.
“This decade of persistent conflict has had an impact that we are just beginning to come to terms with, … an impact of untold costs and an undetermined toll,” U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told an audience at the 2010 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition here.
Mullen called the Army and Marine Corps the “center of gravity” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and said their “enormous adaptability and courage” have made them the best counterinsurgency force in the world – something they perfected in less than three years.
“I stand in awe of what the United States Army has accomplished,” he said, adding that he believes the military will meet its operational objectives in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
But, Mullen said, the military and the nation as a whole should be prepared for the war’s costs: physical, mental, family and financial problems among veterans; diminished noncombat capabilities; expansion of the veterans health care system; high unemployment rates; and homelessness.
“There are many soldiers and veterans coming home for whom the battle hasn’t ended,” he said. “For many, it’s just the beginning.”
Soldiers and Army veterans already are experiencing these problems, Mullen noted, and he added that “what we can see today is truly just the tip of the iceberg.”
Soldiers and their families will benefit from increased “dwell time” at home between deployments, Mullen said, but he warned that some problems are more likely to arise with the reduced structure and leadership on the home front.
The Army can better address such problems by building resilience in soldiers from the first day of basic training and by teaching psychological fitness on par with physical fitness, Mullen said. “We need to teach soldiers psychological fitness skills just as surely as we teach them to march, wear a uniform or shoot,” he said.
The chairman called for the return of “good old-fashioned garrison leadership,” which he described as “engaged, focused, and in some cases, intrusive,” to deal with the profound operational shift following a decade of war.
Today’s young officers and noncommissioned officers who know only the post‑9/11 expeditionary Army include “an incredible group of young, combat-hardened leaders,” Mullen said. But they haven’t been home enough to experience the different, but no less persistent, leadership demands on the home front, he added.
“We have created a generation of soldiers tested to the extreme, wanting to be tested again,” he said. “How do we keep their adrenaline running? How do we keep them engaged constructively? How do we sustain excellence as they transition away from combat?”
Young leaders have to learn, he said, that “we are all accountable for our solders’ well-being whether those young men and women are on duty or not.”
Aside from the human and fiscal cost of the wars, the services will have to deal with what Mullen called the operational opportunity cost.
“There are tasks we aren’t able to do anymore, missions that we haven’t trained for because we are so heavily engaged,” he said. “Across our armed forces, I worry about young Marines who have never deployed on a ship, artillery officers who haven’t fired a gun in years, fighter pilots who have not honed their air-to-air skills.”
The services will have to consider how to foster, develop and retain their best young leaders, the chairman said.
“Our young leaders will be essential for the care of our soldiers, the future of our Army and, ultimately, I believe, the direction of our country,” he said.
The chairman encouraged audience members to hire former servicemembers wherever possible, especially wounded veterans.
“This is a generation that is – in a way I’ve never seen before – wired to contribute and wired to serve,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)