Mullen Offers Advice to Dempsey on Chairman Job
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2011 The job of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is often misunderstood and more than a little confusing, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said here today.
Mullen made his final public remarks as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before an audience that included President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, senior military officers and other distinguished officials.
They gathered at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., for the ceremony marking Mullen’s retirement and change of responsibility to the new chairman, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the nation’s senior military officer, charged with advising the president, defense secretary and Congress on military matters.
“I’ve always taken that responsibility very seriously, always considered that a low profile was best ... sort of like my hero, George Marshall,” the admiral said. Marshall, who died Oct. 16, 1959, was the Army chief of staff during World War II. Afterward, as the Cold War began, Marshall served as secretary of state and then defense secretary.
Though many people have asked him what advice he has offered to Dempsey, he has been reticent to answer, the admiral said.
“A big part of the job is discretion; it’s keeping private the counsel you give our nation’s top leaders,” he said. But, he added, his advice is “pretty simple.”
Mullen said Dempsey will be not just the president’s advisor, but also the personal representative of 2.2 million U.S. service members and their families.
“I told him he had a bully pulpit in this job and that he should use it to voice their needs and their concerns and their accomplishments,” the admiral said. “They won’t ask him for that help, but they will need it.”
Mullen said the service chiefs and combatant commanders he has led are “the best team of leaders with whom I have ever served,” Mullen said. “To the degree we are a truly joint force, it’s because of them and their selflessness.”
He said he advised Dempsey the president will listen to him.
“That’s the president’s way,” the admiral said. “He seeks counsel. He appreciates candor, except for certain delicate matters concerning the Chicago White Sox.”
Mullen said he had every opportunity to offer his views to the commander in chief.
“All of my advice has been heard,” he said. “A military man or woman can ask for nothing more of their civilian leaders, and they should expect nothing less.”
Mullen said he told his successor his biggest challenge will be Afghanistan, and “[seeing] this critical transition through to its completion, in making sure that the security gains we have made are not squandered by the scourge of corruption or the lack of good governance that still plagues the country.”
America’s strategy in Afghanistan is the right one, he said, and “we must keep executing it.”
“I urged Marty to remember the importance of Pakistan to all of this, to try and do a better job than I did with that vexing and yet vital relationship,” the admiral said. “I continue to believe that there is no solution in the region without Pakistan, and no stable future in the region without a partnership.”
Mullen said he also told Dempsey to compare the chairman’s job to running a marathon, not a sprint.
“Time is both his best friend and his worst enemy. I never seemed to have enough of it to do the things I wanted, and it’s hard to believe it’s over,” he said.
“Marty, you’re going to be great. You’re absolutely the right person for this job, a combat-proven leader. And with Deanie at your side, the two of you are the right team for these times. Deborah and I wish you both all the best,” Mullen said.