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Mullen Tells Senior Officers to Listen to Young Troops

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CARLISLE BARRACKS, Pa., June 7, 2008 – All ranks must work to together to change the military from a peacetime mentality to a war footing, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told graduates of the Army War College here today.

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen speaks at the Army War College graduation June 7, 2008, at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. During his speech, Mullen highlighted the need for senior officers to listen to their junior officers. Defense Department photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen also told the 339 graduates that he is concerned about gaps in U.S. military capabilities.

“In the Air Force, we have seen -- as recently as this week -- evidence of a serious decline in nuclear mission focus and performance, a decline which erodes our nation’s ability to effectively deter and to defeat potential major adversaries,” he said.

“I respect and admire the decisions by (Air Force) Secretary Michael Wynne and (Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael) Moseley to accept responsibility and accountability for this decline,” he continued.

Their decision to shoulder responsibility was right and is “a lesson to us all about leadership, but so too should it serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of complacency.”

The gaps in professional expertise cannot persist, particularly when the military is called upon to engage around the globe, building allies’ capacity, improving international and interagency cooperation, and fostering both security and stability through healthy vibrant deterrence, Mullen said.

“We can expect the counterinsurgency mission to continue, perhaps even grow, but we must also stay prepared for a range of military operations,” he said. “We cannot sacrifice the future for the sake of the now.”

The U.S. military must listen to battle-hardened young servicemembers, Mullen stressed, and the lieutenant colonels and colonels must listen. “(The troops) are out there making a difference, and they know it,” Mullen said. “They also know, as you do, a few new things about how to wage irregular warfare in this new century.”

In Iraq, American servicemembers are providing the stability the country needs. They are training Iraqi security forces and have made sacrifices to do so. That combat experience is invaluable, Mullen said. “They are wise beyond their years,” he said. “War has a way of doing that. We owe them our attention and our time. We owe them the opportunity to think and to speak.

“Two weeks ago, I stood before the graduating class of the Naval Academy, and I told them to question you, their seniors, about the way we do things,” he said. “Today, I urge you, in turn, to listen to them, your juniors. Learn what’s on their minds; come to know their concerns. … We need your help in bringing these issues to the forefront of a system that is mired in peacetime and must fundamentally change, one that puts our people at the center of the universe.”

The chairman also called on a national discourse on defense. “Quite frankly, I don’t believe our armed forces are as balanced as they need to be for that future,” he said. “That’s why I have so strongly argued for a renewed debate in this country about the level of defense spending.”

He said he would like to see a thoughtful reevaluation of the threats America faces and the risks the country is willing to run. He suggested the country should invest roughly 4 percent of gross domestic product in national defense. “Whether we stay at that level or rise above it is, of course, for the American people to decide, but we ought to have that discussion,” he said. “Maintaining a force that is correctly shaped, sized, trained and equipped so that we may adequately defend our nation is our most pressing long-term problem.”

The military needs to be able to fight counterinsurgencies, but some regional threats also require conventional capabilities. The Navy has a power-projection mission that requires more than the 280 ships currently afloat.

In the Army and Marine Corps forces need to fill gaps. “There are young Marines who have never deployed aboard a Navy ship, and Army officers who have not been able to focus on their mission of providing artillery fire support,” he said. “We must be able to fight with equal vigor the savage wars of peace and the fractured peace that could be major war in the future.”

Mullen told the officers that they must have a more balanced view of the world. The War College class has 43 international fellows including officers from Egypt, Romania, Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Mongolia, Colombia, Indonesia and Mexico. “These individuals have given you a glimpse of the world through their eyes,” Mullen said.

He urged the students to stay in contact, saying this will help build relationships and broaden perspectives.

“We must understand intimately how others see the world -- our friends and our enemies -- and where we reside in that worldview,” the chairman said. “We must read their books, speak their languages, understand their cultures, and learn their histories, so we can know who they are and where they are going.”

Mullen also recalled his trip to the Pacific and Pakistan earlier this week. He said the trip illustrated the need for balance in the military and the need to address a range of missions. U.S. Pacific Command forces operate daily across the range of military activities from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief -- such as recent humanitarian missions supplying aid to China and Burma -- to counterterrorist operations and foreign internal defense -- such as operations under way in the Philippines. In addition, Pacific Command forces train and exercise with conventional forces in the Republic of Korea.

“U.S. forces worldwide must likewise be able to provide our civilian leaders a wide range of options for deterrence escalation and de-escalation and, wherever we can, a helping hand,” Mullen said.

The War College graduation was held at 9 a.m. and the temperature already was climbing into the mid-90s. The audience turned programs into fans and sought shade from the sun that broke through the fog just in time for the ceremony. The graduation was on the parade ground that once saw the stamp of militia raised for the French and Indian War.

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Adm. Mike Mullen

Related Sites:
U.S. Army War College

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageChairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen speaks at the Army War College graduation June 7, 2008, at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. During his speech, Mullen highlighted the need for senior officers to listen to their junior officers. Defense Department photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump  
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