Thursday, October 9, 2008

Joint Chiefs Chairman Reflects on First Year in Office

Joint Chiefs Chairman Reflects on First Year in Office

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2008 – With just over a year as the top U.S. military officer, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said he’s impressed by the resilience of the force despite repeated deployments, and he vowed to ensure troops get more time at home between deployments and support in line with their sacrifices.

“I continue to be very concerned about the stress on the force,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday during a Pentagon Channel podcast interview. “It has been a priority for me since I took over as chairman, and will continue to be, because the Army and the Marine Corps have been pushed very hard in fighting this war.”

Mullen said he’s learned many things in the past year, but one thing stands out. “Probably more than anything else,” he said, “I have learned how resilient our armed forces are, and particularly our Army and Marine Corps and their families. I don’t take that for granted. That resilience isn’t infinite.”

Mullen said he will continue to press for more “home tempo” -- time between deployments -- that gives troops time to decompress from the stresses of combat and reconnect with their families. He’s quick to draw the distinction between time at home and time in the field.

“When you are home, you are home,” he said. “You are actually spending the night in your house, and not necessarily out training.”

The Marine Corps soon will be in a position to increase home tempo, thanks to a recent boost in its end strength, Mullen said. But he expressed concern that the Army won’t reach that point for a couple of years.

The chairman also expressed hope that the force drawdown in Iraq will continue, providing more opportunities not just to send additional forces to Afghanistan, but also to build in more time at home stations between deployments.

Meanwhile, Mullen promised to ensure troops – particularly those wounded in combat and families of those killed – get the support they deserve.

“We have got to focus on our families and those who have been pressed so hard, and do all we can to make sure they are well taken care of across the board,” he said.

Today’s troops represent the military’s future, he said. “They are combat-hardened. They have within them the future of a very healthy force. We … have to pay a lot of attention to making sure we can take care of … those who have given so much.”

Mullen said he’ll also be a solid advocate for veterans to ensure they receive better treatment than the troops who served with him in Vietnam. He said he’s working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure a better transition to VA care and support services to help head off problems such as homelessness.

“I want to be a voice with respect to this, to not generate the kind of homeless numbers we generated coming out of Vietnam,” he said. “We did not get that right before. So I am very much committed from a leadership perspective to do as much as I can to ensure we don’t do that.”

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