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Mullen Pledges Best Effort ‘To Prevent Forces From Breaking’

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2007 – U.S. ground forces are not broken, but they are capable of breaking, the military’s highest-ranking officer said last night, while vowing to make relieving strains on troops a top priority. (Video)

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen is thanked by Michele Flournoy,president and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security after delivering his first public speech as chairman at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., Oct. 25, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

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

In his first public speech as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen said he aims to “reset, reconstitute, and revitalize our forces,” by overseeing a reduction of deployment length, an increase in the overall force size and improvements to incentives the military offers potential recruits.

“Are the ground forces broken? Absolutely not,” Mullen told the audience at the Center for a New American Security here. “Are they breakable? They are. And I will do everything I can to prevent them from breaking.”

Now approaching the sixth year of war, the Army and Marine Corps have been stretched, Mullen said. The Army is on a 15 month-deployment, 12 months-home rotation cycle, and the Marines are on a seven month-deployment, seven months-home cycle.

“Many of them have done two, three, and four deployments,” he added, “and that's tough.”

The chairman praised Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for his decision in January to limit deployments to 15 months in theater with 12 months home. He added that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, said he needs to move soldiers toward 12 month deployments and 15 months of “dwell time” as rapidly as possible.

Operational requirements are driving the need for such lengthy deployments, Mullen said. “We are still very much in the mission-accomplishment mode,” he said. “We have a mission to accomplish, and we have to take all of this into consideration in balancing the risks that are associated with the mission as well as with the force.”

Mullen spent two days this week meeting with soldiers at Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and Fort Sill, Okla. “A common theme during my visits was that the Army was stretched,” he said. “Our troops' desires to take care of their families was also prominent in the questions they raised routinely.”

During recent trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen said, he was struck by the high morale of soldiers on the ground. “(Morale) is good, but they are tired, and in particular, one of the groups I spoke with had been there 14 months,” he recalled. “They were ready to come home, and their families were ready to have them come home.”

Mullen said that while troops and their families make sacrifices to support the pace of operations, their resilience has limits.

To alleviate troop strains, Mullen said, the Army will increase in size by more than 60,000 soldiers, and the Marine Corps by nearly 30,000 Marines. Such additions will allow the U.S. military to “preserve our ability to respond to other crises and contingencies around the world well into the future,” he added.

“I know the increase in end strength won't relieve the pressure on our ground forces right away, but over time, it will certainly help,” he said. “And in this era of persistent engagement and conflict, I don't see our global responsibilities diminishing any time soon.”

During a recent meeting with some 30 Army majors at Fort Leavenworth, one officer asked Mullen how the U.S. military would compete against employers in the private sector or elsewhere.

“I gave an answer about how important it was, one, for the leadership to recognize we are in a competition,” he said. “And we do need to incentivize this.”

Mullen acknowledged that the current landscape for recruiting is harsh. Nevertheless, he said, the all-volunteer force is exceptionally capable.

“I know we are recruiting at a time that is a very, very tough time to recruit. The propensity to serve is going down,” he said. “The influencers -- parents and coaches and teachers -- are not as inclined to recommend the military, and yet, when I go out and see them, they are the best military, the most professional, capable group of young people that I have ever served with in almost 40 years.

“What we have over anybody else is a noble calling where you, when you join, make a difference not just for yourself, but for those around you and for people throughout the world,” he added.

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Adm. Michael G. Mullen, USN

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