Mullen Spurs on American Youth to Face National Challenges
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
GROVE CITY, Pa., Feb. 3, 2009 In a speech aimed at American youth, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, encouraged the college-aged generation last night to help shape their country’s future.
In wide-ranging remarks, Mullen spurred on an audience comprised mainly of students at Grove City College here to consider contributing to the United States as it faces a financial crisis, national security threats and a “full spectrum” of challenges, including the health of the military.
“We live in extraordinary times,” he said. “Our future is in your hands -- not in mine -- in these challenging times. … This isn’t just about national security or military security, this is about our nation.”
Mullen said he is concerned that the global financial crisis could create a degree of instability and is going to have an impact on federal budgets.
Mullen characterized the “broader Middle East” as the world’s most challenging region. He defined the area as encompassing everything from the Palestine-Israel conflict to Lebanon to Iran, and further east to include Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
“It’s a very unstable part of the world, and there seemingly are crises after crises, and I think that we have to address it from a military standpoint as well as a national policy standpoint as a priority for our country,” he said.
Mullen said the shifting U.S. focus from the conflict in Iraq to Afghanistan -- which he said “is not going well” -- is the right policy at the right time.
The admiral cited provincial elections that took place in Iraq on Jan. 31 as a measure of progress. There were no reports of deaths or major violence on the day Iraqis cast their ballots, military officials said.
Mullen said additional, nonmilitary resources should also be placed in Afghanistan to help bolster good governance and to help support its economy, in addition to the upwards of 30,000 U.S. troops that military officials expect to deploy there over the next 12 to 16 months.
Mullen said Afghanistan should be viewed as a regional issue that takes into account Pakistan and even India, both of which are nuclear powers.
“We have to focus on that part of the world well enough to ensure that the terrorist safe haven from which we were attacked is not reborn in Afghanistan and is eliminated in Pakistan,” he said.
In a briefing in December, Mullen said safe havens in Pakistan played a role in allowing the terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba prepare for the Nov. 26 attack that killed 172 people in Mumbai and paralyzed India’s largest city and financial center for three days. The admiral added yesterday that what concerned him most about the terrorist attack was the fact that it “literally moved two major nuclear powers closer to war.”
“We are now, and will be for the foreseeable future, involved in this lengthy, determined effort to eliminate those terrorists as a threat to us,” he said.
Mullen said Americans should be mindful of the sacrifices made by the roughly 220,000 U.S. troops deployed to the region and the families they leave behind. He said their service is exemplary of the contribution being made by the 2.2 million men and women in uniform.
“I am incredibly appreciative of their service, and I know the American people are as well,” he said.
Speaking about the health of the force, Mullen noted recent Army statistics showing that suicide rates are “up dramatically from last year.” The rate of suicide among soldiers exceeds the national norm, he said.
“Part of it has got to be the pressure of these constant deployments,” he said. “And in constant deployments into combat -- where young individuals, as it has been the case throughout history, [and] whose lives change forever -- see things and do things that they had never imagined. And we have got to be able to support those individuals in ways that in some cases we haven’t quite figured out yet.”
Mullen also recommended that care be improved for families of servicemembers killed in action.
“Families whose principal military member has paid the ultimate sacrifice -- we are a wealthy enough country, even in these financially difficult times, to make sure they are taken care of their needs are met for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Mullen voiced his confidence to the audience that the United States would get out of its economic crises “just fine.”
Historically, such crises bring out “the best in us as a country,” he said. “That’s only because [a crisis] brings out the best in every single American, and we need that now, at a time when we’ve got to pull together to move forward and solve these hugely challenging problems we have.”