USA — Pace of Changes Clouds Future, Mullen Says

WASHINGTON — The pace of changes in the mil­i­tary and in the world has made look­ing ahead a dif­fi­cult propo­si­tion, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yes­ter­day.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told mem­bers of the Air Nation­al Guard’s 140th Wing dur­ing a town hall-style meet­ing at Buck­ley Air Force Base, Colo., that they’re part of a rapid­ly chang­ing world.

“Things are chang­ing so fast, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Guard and reserves, to keep up with the mis­sions we have,” Mullen said. “I’m not sure exact­ly what [the future] looks like.”

Mullen also spoke of the pace of changes in med­ical treat­ments and tech­nol­o­gy, and the demands that have been placed on mil­i­tary fam­i­lies. “The rela­tion­ship and inte­gra­tion of our fam­i­lies is more impor­tant than it’s ever been,” he said, adding that his wife, Deb­o­rah, met with the ser­vice­mem­bers’ fam­i­lies dur­ing their vis­it.

“I believe we’re chang­ing in ways – med­ical­ly, and in the [intel­li­gence] world – where we don’t know exact­ly how it all ends up, and we need to,” the chair­man said.

Mullen said he is espe­cial­ly grate­ful for the high rate of recruit­ment and reten­tion since 9/11 from ser­vice­mem­bers who under­stand the demands ahead of them. Many are dri­ven by the loss of Amer­i­cans on 9/11, he said, adding that he is as well.

“This is per­son­al to me — the plane flew in under my office,” Mullen said of the attack on the Pen­ta­gon. “I lost peo­ple there. It has­n’t hap­pened since, not because peo­ple haven’t tried, but because of the extra­or­di­nary effort of our whole gov­ern­ment.

“It was these wars that focused us,” he con­tin­ued. “I dri­ve by the Pen­ta­gon Memo­r­i­al almost every day I’m there, and I’m remind­ed of the 3,000 peo­ple who died” at three sites dur­ing the ter­ror­ist attacks.

“Al-Qai­da is still out there and they don’t want to just kill 3,000 peo­ple,” Mullen said. “They’d like to kill 30,000 or 40,000 if they could. The abil­i­ty to defend against that is why we’re here. It’s what you’re about.”

The chair­man said it’s not enough that recruit­ment and reten­tion are at record highs. The mil­i­tary still needs the right peo­ple with the right skills and the right lead­ers, he told the air­men.

“When peo­ple ask me about bet­ting on our mil­i­tary for the future, I’m bet­ting on you,” he said. “But I’m not just inter­est­ed in keep­ing the num­bers up. We need the right peo­ple with the right skills.”

Mullen chal­lenged the air­men to live up to their own lead­er­ship poten­tial while also grow­ing new lead­ers. The need for lead­er­ship at such a time of change presents great oppor­tu­ni­ties, he said. “There’s noth­ing more dif­fi­cult, and yet it is the most-excit­ing form of lead­er­ship,” he said.

The focus on retain­ing the right ser­vice­mem­bers and grow­ing lead­ers “is the peo­ple side of this, and we’ve got to make sure we get this right,” the chair­man said. “Lead well and men­tor well. Some­one men­tored you, and I would expect you to do the same.”

Diver­si­ty will con­tin­ue to be impor­tant in the mil­i­tary, Mullen said.

“In the long run, our mil­i­tary must rep­re­sent Amer­i­ca,” he said. “To the degree that we don’t, we will drift away.”

Mullen thanked the air­men for their ser­vice, not­ing that the Guard and reserves have been crit­i­cal to oper­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today’s mil­i­tary, he said, is the best ever.

“Thanks for what you’re doing,” Mullen said. “You’re the best I’ve ever seen. You’ve made a dif­fer­ence in two wars we did­n’t antic­i­pate, and you’ve adjust­ed incred­i­bly well.”

Mullen not­ed the great­ly extend­ed length of deploy­ments and decreased time at home that ser­vice­mem­bers have expe­ri­enced since the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror attacks. And, he said, the Guard and reserves were “nowhere near where they are today” in capa­bil­i­ties 10 years ago.

Dur­ing a ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion with the air­men, Mullen was asked about the trend toward using more unmanned air­craft. Air Force lead­er­ship, he respond­ed, should take note of how the Navy moved toward mod­ern­iz­ing its fleet. Although new­er manned air­craft are much more capa­ble and few­er are need­ed com­pared to old­er mod­els, they are very expen­sive, he said.

“The hard facts are, the only pos­si­ble way to [recap­i­tal­ize] your Air Force is to decom­mis­sion air­planes,” Mullen said. “It’s not going to start rain­ing mon­ey here. That’s very upset­ting, and I under­stand all that. But the recap­i­tal­iza­tion require­ment is very real, and we’re try­ing deal with what the bal­ance will be. In the end, for the health of the mil­i­tary, it’s going take tough deci­sions on the part of the lead­ers.”

Air Force offi­cials should know in the next 12 to 24 months what the future bal­ance of manned and unmanned air­craft will look like, the chair­man said.

Mullen also spoke of tough deci­sions regard­ing future mil­i­tary bud­gets, not­ing ris­ing U.S. bud­get deficits.

“We’re not an insignif­i­cant part of that,” he said. “We’ve got to spend the mon­ey well.”

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