Vets Deserve Opportunity, Mullen Tells Miami Audience

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Navy Adm. Mike Mullen has billed his fre­quent speak­ing engage­ments around the nation as a “Con­ver­sa­tion With the Coun­try,” and that proved espe­cial­ly fit­ting as three mem­bers of the mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty spoke here today.

Marine Corps wife Karen Aguirre, Army reservist Har­ry Zayas and wound­ed war­rior Jason Recio shared their mil­i­tary expe­ri­ences with about 500 lead­ers, stu­dents and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers here at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mia­mi. The three were part of a pan­el dis­cus­sion that pre­ced­ed those of the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“There is noth­ing a vet­er­an can’t do,” Recio, a police offi­cer with the munic­i­pal police depart­ment here, said. “And there’s noth­ing a vet­er­an can’t do bet­ter.”

Recio was deemed 100 per­cent dis­abled from injuries he received in Iraq: his vehi­cle was hit by a rock­et-pro­pelled grenade, and he was shot twice. He was mede­vaced to Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, and spent three years recov­er­ing.

Recio want­ed to be a police offi­cer, but couldn’t find a depart­ment in south­ern Flori­da that would take a chance on him, based on his injuries. He bat­tled back, and final­ly the Coral Gables depart­ment gave him a chance.

“That’s all I want­ed,” Recio said, “a chance.”

The Amer­i­can peo­ple need to hear these sto­ries, the chair­man said. While they respect and hon­or ser­vice mem­bers, they don’t real­ly under­stand the sac­ri­fices men and women in uni­form and their fam­i­lies have made and the stres­sors they face as the nation fights two wars.

Har­ry Zayas, an explo­sive ord­nance expert, has deployed to Iraq. He will deploy again soon with his unit, this time to Afghanistan. Mullen not­ed the mul­ti­ple deploy­ments, the actions that many have been involved in over­seas, and the stress­es of read­just­ing to the Unit­ed States.

Mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, too, are under stress. “They sit and wait, every sin­gle night” to find out if that is the day they receive news that a loved one is wound­ed or has made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice, he said.

The Unit­ed States is enter­ing its 11th year of war, the chair­man said. The all-vol­un­teer force has deployed for a year, been home for a year, then deployed again. The Army and Marines have borne the brunt, but sailors, air­men and Coast Guards­men, too, have been stressed, he said.

And their chil­dren also have been affect­ed. A 5-year-old in 2001 with a mom or dad in one of these high-deploy­ing units has spent an entire con­scious life with a par­ent at war, Mullen said. “We’ve nev­er had this before,” he said.

There is light at the end of the tun­nel. The Army is mov­ing to nine-month deploy­ments begin­ning next year, and sol­diers will have 18 months at home. The oth­er ser­vices are mov­ing in that direc­tion also. But war­fare has changed, Mullen said, and ser­vice mem­bers will con­tin­ue to deploy even after U.S. troops depart Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

Amer­i­cans need to under­stand what ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies are going through, because “these young men and women have gen­er­at­ed a debt we can­not repay,” Mullen said.

The mil­i­tary has 2.2 mil­lion peo­ple on active duty or in the Nation­al Guard or reserve com­po­nents. All have vol­un­teered, all make sac­ri­fices, and all have made a dif­fer­ence. “We’ve been able to exe­cute the mis­sions in these two very dif­fi­cult wars because of the sup­port of these peo­ple and the sup­port of the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Mullen said.

By their ser­vice, sol­diers, sailors, air­men and Marines have earned the respect and hon­or. When they get out of the mil­i­tary they have learned lead­er­ship and dis­ci­pline, are tech­ni­cal­ly qual­i­fied, and know how to put togeth­er teams to reach mutu­al goals, Mullen said.

“If I heard one mes­sage from the pan­el, it was, ‘Just give me a chance,’ ” he said. “Give me an oppor­tu­ni­ty. That’s all.”

If Amer­i­ca invests in the gen­er­a­tion serv­ing today — a gen­er­a­tion he says “is hard-wired to serve” — it will make a dif­fer­ence for 60 years, the chair­man said.

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