Mullen: Investing in Military Members Critical
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
PRINCETON, N.J., Feb. 6, 2009 Investing in servicemembers and keeping them “whole” is a critical defense expenditure, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told members of the Princeton University ROTC here yesterday.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke about the health of the U.S. forces and its importance to him during open lectures to the ROTC “Tiger Battalion” and with faculty at the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs.
“They are the most combat-hardened force we’ve ever had,” Mullen told the cadets who will join the 2.2 million military men and women upon graduation. “If we get it right with them, the future will be fine.”
The U.S. financial crisis and expected cuts in the defense budget will affect equipment procurement, Mullen said. “We may not get the stuff – the equipment -- as rapidly as we want,” he said. “But at the center of all that is the people. Investing there and keeping that whole is critical.”
The department is making investments now that will offer significant defense capabilities in 20 years, but will have to make tough choices in the years ahead, he said.
“Part of my job is to tell the American people, in addition to the president, ‘This is what I need for national security,’” Mullen said. “I take that responsibility seriously. If I’m unable to do what I’m asked to do, you’ll be the first to know.”
The strain on the force is a concern, Mullen said, recounting a visit to Fort Stewart, Ga., where about half of a brigade had just returned from their fourth deployment.
“These are young people who would like to meet someone and start a family, or if they have a family would like to spend time with them,” the chairman said. “The pressure we put on them has been extraordinary. And yet their resilience has been unmatched.
“They know they have made a difference and they are very proud of what they have done. What we need to do is give them the time they need at home.”
Active duty military units spend a year deployed and a year at home. Reserve units are spending a year deployed and three years home. The plan is to increase the time spent at home, Mullen said.
Young men and women in the military are asked to shoulder a lot of responsibility quickly. “I am fond of reminding people -- even those in the military -- that when you go anywhere in the military, whether an aircraft squadron, a battalion or a ship, the average age is about 21,” he said.
Mullen pointed out another asset of U.S. forces -- their diversity.
“There’s a tremendous amount of strength in our diversity as a military, across every aspect -- geographically, ethnically, gender-wise,” Mullen said. That diversity is an example to the world, he said.
The chairman also emphasized the responsibility Americans have to those wounded in action and the families of those killed.
“Their American dream has not changed. Their path to that may have been modified, but the dream hasn’t changed,” he said. “We need, as a country, to ensure that those dreams are realized. They are the ones who have sacrificed so much, and they are the face of these wars that I see all the time. It is part of who we are as a military.”