USA — Mullen Discusses Army Challenges with Longer ‘Dwell’ Time

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2010 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stressed the need for strong gar­ri­son lead­er­ship today, under­scor­ing the effects longer peri­ods at home between deploy­ments may have on troops and their fam­i­lies in the future.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke to sol­diers and air­men at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., today. By Octo­ber, more than 30,000 troops will be “at home” there for the first time since 2003.

Sol­diers through­out the Army also will soon enjoy a slow­er deploy­ment tem­po, Mullen not­ed, as major units are pro­ject­ed to have twice as long at home as deployed by the end of 2012. About 70 per­cent of those units are expect­ed to have a 2‑to‑1 “dwell time” ratio by the end of 2011, he added.

“That’s based off the pro­jec­tions we see right now, so that is a huge change,” Mullen said. “This is a big change, and if you are a leader, lead­ing when things are chang­ing is the most dif­fi­cult kind of lead­er­ship, because it’s less pre­dictable.”

The chair­man explained that although more time at home is long over­due, a slow­er-paced mil­i­tary always must be ready for the unpre­dictable. Lead­ers must ensure troops and their fam­i­lies are cared for, he said, stress­ing the impor­tance of gar­ri­son lead­er­ship.

“We’ve got to focus on those things that we have not been able to focus on, because we haven’t had the time, as we’ve been putting units togeth­er and rotat­ing in and out of war,” the admi­ral said. “You need to think about what’s hap­pen­ing next in an unpre­dictable world and envi­ron­ment.”

Mullen cit­ed the ris­ing mil­i­tary sui­cide rate since 2001 to illus­trate his point. A recent Army report out­lined how units, in an effort to main­tain readi­ness, have over­looked psy­cho­log­i­cal issues sol­diers may have. Lead­ers have over­looked sig­nals and behav­iors, includ­ing mis­con­duct, that may have indi­cat­ed an increased risk of sui­cide for some sol­diers, Army offi­cials said last month.

Many troops in today’s audi­ence are too young to remem­ber the mil­i­tary in peace time, Mullen said. As few­er troops are need­ed in the fight, he added, he and Army offi­cials rec­og­nize that gar­ri­son lead­er­ship must improve.

The rate of sol­dier sui­cides has risen in each of the past five years. In fis­cal 2009, 160 sol­diers took their own lives, while there were more than 1,700 attempts. Army sui­cides exceed the nation­al aver­age.

Although the Army receives much media atten­tion for its sui­cide rates, Mullen not­ed, every service’s sui­cide rate has “dra­mat­i­cal­ly” increased since 2004. This trend is a strong indi­ca­tion of the stress the mil­i­tary has under­gone since Sept. 11, 2001, he added.

“At the core of that is strong gar­ri­son lead­er­ship,” the chair­man said. “We’ve got to make sure we get it right across the full spec­trum — units, sol­diers, fam­i­lies. The only way I know how to get at [sui­cide pre­ven­tion] is through lead­er­ship and lead­ers focus­ing on their peo­ple.

“There’s just too many peo­ple tak­ing their lives, and we’ve got to get ahead of that,” he said. “We’ve got to stay in touch with them. That’s a lead­er­ship func­tion.”

The Army, and mil­i­tary as a whole, Mullen said, must focus on build­ing resilience from ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies’ first day in the mil­i­tary. The heart of the mil­i­tary lies in its lead­er­ship and how each mem­ber takes care of each oth­er, he said.

“Every sin­gle per­son in this audi­ence is a leader,” he said. “Peo­ple have to be bold and step in, and this has to do with tak­ing care of each oth­er, lead­ing and men­tor­ing those who come behind you. You can’t just pas­sive­ly sit and watch this hap­pen.”

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

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