LOS ANGELES, Nov. 11, 2010 — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the eve of Veterans Day yesterday, asked the civilian world to reach out to veterans returning home from the wars.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, speaking as part of the Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture Series at the UCLA campus here, said he is concerned that civilian Americans are becoming detached from the all-volunteer military at a time when troops are fighting two wars and standing guard around the world. It was the latest in several speeches Mullen has given at college campuses around the nation to bridge the gap between civilians and the military.
It may be the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen, Mullen said, but its all-volunteer nature, and size of the force may be isolating servicemembers from the country they represent. “I have been concerned about how much Americans know about our men and women in uniform and their sacrifices,” he said.
Servicemembers come from all around the country, but at 2.2 million serving, they are less than 1 percent of the U.S. population of more than 300 million. Increasingly, new recruits come from southern and midwestern states. “We’re 40 percent smaller than we used to be, so we’re out of communities we used to be in,” Mullen said. “In the long run, I worry a great deal about our military becoming detached from those we represent.”
American should focus on the troops and their families, the chairman said. “Their sacrifices have been enormous,” he said.
More than 5,500 servicemembers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some 40,000 have physical injuries. Mostly the result of improvised explosive devices, the common wounds of burns and amputations are often horrendous. Hundreds of thousands of servicemembers have post-traumatic stress, and mild or moderate traumatic brain injury, Mullen said.
Servicemembers have deployed repeatedly since 2001. Army brigades – the basic combat unit – have deployed an average of five times each. Marine regiments have matched this. This type of absence affects military families, Mullen said. “If you took any 11-year-old or younger military child, it’s all they’ve known their whole lives,” he said. “There are military children who are 18 or 19 who are going to college, and half of their lives they have not seen their mom or dad. You almost can’t do the math and figure out how anyone was home since 2003, much less able to calm down and focus on their families.”
Military families have been extraordinarily supportive during this stressful time, Mullen said. “They’ve made a difference in our readiness, they’ve made a difference in our mission, they’ve made a difference without which we could not have succeeded in Iraq and certainly would not be able to do what we’re doing in Afghanistan,” he said. “Their resilience has been extraordinary.”
The deployment rate is slowing and the Army and Marines will have a dwell time of being home twice as long as being deployed. This is a good thing, Mullen said, “but we are going to have problems with that, as families who have compartmentalized the things they needed to deal with now are going to have to unpack a lot of that and deal with it,” he said.
Americans need to support and understand the thousands of veterans returning to communities all over the United States. “They served extraordinarily well,” he said. “Many of them will go to school because the G.I. Bill is a very robust deal now, and will want to improve themselves via education. They are in their mid-20s. They’ve got life experiences which are matchless. They’ve led, they’ve achieved, they will make a difference for decades to come. I think we need to invest in them.
“As we look at Veterans Day, one of the messages is to thank them, but also to hire them,” he said. “They have done what our country sent them off to do. It is a debt that cannot be repaid, and we need to do all we can to give them life-sustaining support because of their sacrifices. We must make every day Veterans Day in terms of supporting them or their families.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)