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)