USA — Mullens Advocate More Reserve Support

WASHINGTON — Mil­i­tary lead­ers are work­ing hard to cre­ate the same kind of sup­port net­work for the reserve com­po­nents that exists for the active duty, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yes­ter­day.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen made the com­ments as part of his reg­u­lar pod­cast to troops. Joined by his wife, Deb­o­rah, who fre­quent­ly meets with mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, the cou­ple dis­cussed stress­es on mil­i­tary fam­i­lies and efforts to alle­vi­ate them.

Nation­al Guard mem­bers and reservists have added chal­lenges after being acti­vat­ed for deploy­ments, in that many live in com­mu­ni­ties with­out the sup­port found on mil­i­tary bases, often with chil­dren who are the only mil­i­tary kids in their school, Mrs. Mullen said. “Our Guard and reservists tend to be great dis­tances from mil­i­tary instal­la­tions and have no mutu­al peer sup­port in their schools and their com­mu­ni­ties,” she said.

Too often, Guard and reserve mem­bers return from deploy­ment and are “thrust back into civil­ian life with­out time to adjust,” she said. But good pro­grams exist, she added, such as the Army Reserve’s “Fort Fam­i­ly” pro­gram with 24/7 phone sup­port and the “Cop­ing With Deploy­ment” pro­gram by the Amer­i­can Red Cross, which oper­ates through­out the coun­try.

As he trav­els across the coun­try to speak about address­ing ser­vice­mem­bers’ and vet­er­ans’ needs, Mullen said, he is struck by “the uni­ver­sal con­stant” that all com­mu­ni­ties want to help. He said he hopes to “knit up” the efforts of the depart­ments of Defense and Vet­er­ans Affairs with those com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide a con­tin­u­um of sup­port.

It can be hard for com­mu­ni­ties to iden­ti­fy vet­er­ans and Guard and Reserve fam­i­lies in need, and “we wor­ry about those who don’t con­nect up with com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices,” Mrs. Mullen said, not­ing that women vet­er­ans with chil­dren are the most quick­ly ris­ing group of home­less vet­er­ans.

The increase in Guard and reserve sup­port pro­grams today from when the wars began nine years ago “is night and day,” the admi­ral said, “but it’s still not enough.” He said he is less inter­est­ed in adding pro­grams than he is in mak­ing sure the cur­rent pro­grams are effec­tive. Improv­ing pro­grams is impor­tant so that ser­vice­mem­bers “have a life ring to grab onto,” he said.

The cou­ple also spoke of the need for vig­i­lance among mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies to iden­ti­fy signs that a per­son may be sui­ci­dal. As she meets with mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, Mrs. Mullen said, spous­es increas­ing­ly ask for train­ing not just in how to detect poten­tial signs of sui­cide in ser­vice­mem­bers, but also in their civil­ian fam­i­ly mem­bers. The Nation­al Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line at 1–800-723-TALK is a valu­able resource for such infor­ma­tion, she said.

The chair­man not­ed that even as the depart­ment puts more resources into curb­ing sui­cides, the cas­es con­tin­ue to rise. He said he believes the prob­lem is tied to repeat­ed deploy­ments and ser­vice­mem­bers not get­ting enough time at home, which he said will improve as troops draw down from Iraq.

“We find our mil­i­tary mem­bers have been incred­i­bly resilient in the last nine years, yet we have to give them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to release some of that stress,” he said.

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