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Length of Wars Challenges Nation, Lynn Says

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2010 – The duration of today’s conflicts poses a greater challenge to the nation and its military than the magnitude of the wars, the deputy defense secretary told an audience of American high school students here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Michael Zachau Walker (left), a junior at Ankara High School, in Turkey and Joshua Jones (right), a senior at Kubasaki High School in Okinawa, Japan, visited the Pentagon as part of the U.S. Youth Senate Program. The program is a week-long educational opportunity held in Washington, D.C. each March. DoD photo by Angie Kohler

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“The most stressing part of the fight has been the length of it, the duration, the constant need to send forces back three, four, five, six, seven times,” William J. Lynn III said. “That’s very tough on families.”

Lynn outlined some of the greatest threats and challenges facing the nation today for 104 student leaders who stopped by the Pentagon to gain knowledge about the inner workings of national defense and its history.

Their visit was the culminating event of the U.S. Senate Youth Program’s “Washington Week,” an educational experience for high school students interested in pursuing careers in public service.

The students, Lynn noted, are growing up in a time of war; all were in elementary school when 9/11 occurred.

“For most of your conscious lives, … we’ve been at war,” he said. “We’ve been in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq for as long as we were in World War I and II combined.”

As a result, many units have been heavily tasked, with just one year at home before they are asked to return to the fight, Lynn said. “That’s just been a huge challenge,” and one that, in part, has accelerated increases in Army and Marine Corps forces, he added.

“We have to be able to rotate forces in ways that are less stressful on the troops themselves and their families,” he noted.

Lynn also touched on the asymmetric threats facing the nation.

“The U.S. has become so strong in conventional measures that most adversaries will not and have not chosen to challenge us on those measures,” he said, noting that adversaries instead turn to asymmetric measures, such as improvised explosive devices.

The military counters these threats with new technology, such as the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, Lynn said, as well as through changes in tactics and the use of intelligence to “anticipate where they’re going to be [and] ferret out the makers of these IEDs.”

Computers can be the avenue for another, also challenging, asymmetric threat, the deputy secretary noted.

“It doesn’t take a lot of resources to develop a pretty effective cyber attack, but it takes a lot of resources to defend against them, so it’s a difficult challenge,” he said.

At the same time, the Internet also can be a valuable tool, Lynn said. He highlighted the department’s new social media policy, which takes the benefits of social networking sites into account. The previous policy was inconsistent, he told the students, blocking some social networking sites and allowing people to visit others.

He acknowledged that social networking sites can be a source of threats, but said blocking access isn’t the answer. “Our approach has been not to block the sites but to improve defenses,” he said.

“We need to be utilizing this new tool of social network sites in terms of recruiting, in terms of disseminating messages, in terms of having families communicate with each other on the long deployments,” he explained. “We try to have a balanced policy, which is open in terms of access, but strong in terms of the defenses that we have.”

Lynn concluded by encouraging the students to consider a career in public service, whether it’s in uniform or as a civilian. “I think you will find both can be very rewarding,” he said.

Along with Lynn, the delegates also met with Douglas B. Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree K. Sutton, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. The students then embarked on a Pentagon tour.

Earlier in the week, the delegates spent time at the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and the White House, speaking with senators, cabinet members and officials from the departments of State and Defense. They also had the opportunity to speak with President Barack Obama and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The students were selected from a pool of thousands of applicants and represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity.

The U.S. Senate program, which began in 1962, offers students an opportunity to gain an in-depth view of the government as well as a deeper understanding of the three branches of the American government, according to the program’s Web site. Public and private high schools nominate students each fall, and to qualify, students must hold student body office or another elected or appointed position in their communities and show academic interest and aptitude in government, history and politics. 

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William J. Lynn III
Douglas B. Wilson
Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Loree K. Sutton

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U.S. Senate Youth Program

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