USA — Chairman Notes Persistent Conflict’s Long-term Impact

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)

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