Mullen Thanks Group That Bridges Gap Between America, Servicemembers
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2008 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last night saluted an organization dedicated to keeping America connected with its military.
“You reflect America’s communities, united in spirit, and action, across thousands of lighted hilltops across the land,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the members of the Soldiers’ Angels group.
Mullen was the keynote speaker at the group’s annual benefit gala at the Ronald Reagan Building here. The group connects servicemembers and civilians all across America. Volunteers connect with deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and let them know that they are valued. The group has sent more than 250,000 care packages to deployed troops, provided computers to wounded warriors, purchased airline tickets and distributed gift packages.
The group’s motto is “May no soldier go unloved.”
Almost 300 people attended the event, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, and U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, the House minority whip. About 20 servicemembers undergoing treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md., were honored guests at the event.
Mullen called these wounded servicemembers the most distinguished guests, “who have served and sacrificed, and returned changed by war. It is the greatest of pleasures to say, on behalf of the Joint Chiefs and more than 2.2 million of your brothers and sisters in arms, ‘Welcome home.’”
Mullen said he agrees with the idea that a nation reveals itself by those it honors. “November is a special month for America, when we honor our veterans, whose courage allows the freedom of choice we just exercised only two days ago,” he said. “We honor them with parades booming down boulevards, and silent walks through sacred places like Arlington, and the Pentagon Memorial just consecrated in September.”
The chairman called such sacred areas “vision-places of souls.”
Another such area is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. President Ronald Reagan helped dedicate that memorial and said its healing touch was “a lesson in living love” for all those who served in Vietnam.
The chairman said that he and his wife, Deborah, and all those who lived and served in the 1960s and 1970s saw how disconnected U.S. society and American veterans became.
“We formed one lesson, in two words, indelibly etched in our minds: Never again,” he said. “I feel that spirit in this room tonight. Because when we visit our heroes in Walter Reed and Bethesda, or meet families of the fallen during ceremonies in Arlington, or events like this one, we meet the true strength of our nation.”
Mullen said the nation still has much to do to reach out to servicemembers and to wounded warriors. Aiding wounded servicemembers is the job of all Americans, he said.
The government has made progress is helping servicemembers and their families. The GI Bill is more generous today, and there are new efficiencies between the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the admiral noted. “We have, no doubt, sent a new sense of urgency down the spines of our governmental organizations,” he said.
The war on terror continues, and it is changing at lightning speed, Mullen said. “And our peacetime processes at home must adapt to meet the realities of that war abroad. The truth, as of now, is that our support institutions have not yet met the demands of that struggle,” he said.
Grassroots organizations provide a sea of goodwill and compassion that fills voids no institution could enter, he said.
“Recent studies suggest that as many as 20 percent of today’s troops may suffer from post-traumatic stress brought on by combat in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mullen said. “It can be difficult to diagnose. Many are, understandably, wary of the stigma attached to mental health – a problem I believe we can alleviate through active early detection for everyone, so no one has to raise his or her hand.”
Mullen spoke about a meeting he held with 25 to 30 post-traumatic stress disorder patients from all the services.
“It really bothered me to see what they had to go through just to get into the program – essentially bottoming out, like they were in an alcoholic or a drug rehab regimen,” he said. “I believe we can do better. We must do better.
“There is no greater duty than to bind those wounds, both seen and unseen, and restore the losses of our families, who create the fabric of our society,” he continued. “Those wounds, in many ways, have come to define their lives. They last a lifetime. And so should our care. Because how well we bind those wounds will, in time, define America.”