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)