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Joint Chiefs Chairman Visits U.S. Southern Command

By Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Wimbish, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

MIAMI, Jan. 15, 2008 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited U.S. Southern Command headquarters here yesterday, where he thanked servicemembers and staff for their work and stressed the importance of the security cooperation efforts the command oversees in Latin America and the Caribbean. (Video)

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen holds an all-hands call with servicemembers assigned to U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Fla., Jan. 14, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

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

Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen told more than 1,000 command members during an outdoor “all hands” address that their efforts to build partnerships in the region will pay future dividends, especially in an ever-changing security environment.

“My long-term vision is to be in a position where we have relationships that we can depend on, if needed -- and that’s so much about what goes on in this command,” Mullen said. SOUTHCOM annually sponsors dozens of large and small-scale operations, exercises and engagements that focus on security issues in the region, including a slate of humanitarian assistance missions.

“It’s an incredibly important command at an incredibly important time in our history,” the nation’s highest-ranking military officer said.

The visit was Mullen’s first to SOUTHCOM since becoming chairman in October. In addition to his address, Mullen was briefed on the command’s latest missions in preparation for his trip to Colombia and El Salvador later this week. He will meet with military leaders of both nations to discuss ongoing U.S. military cooperation efforts there, which include SOUTHCOM support to regional counterdrug missions.

Mullen’s visit to the headquarters was part of a five-day tour of SOUTHCOM’s area of operations.

Earlier yesterday, he visited the Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, Fla., the SOUTHCOM component that oversees air and maritime counterdrug missions in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific. The task force, praised as a model of interagency success, helped interdict more than 200 metric tons of cocaine last year. On Jan. 13, Mullen stopped at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, touring detention facilities and addressing troops there.

During the “all hands” session at SOUTHCOM headquarters, Mullen reiterated his view in support of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, but stressed that there are no plans in the works to do so.

“It not for me to make that decision,” he said. “It’s a very, very complex set of circumstances. So it is not in any way, shape or form as simple as saying, ‘Let’s just close it.’” The facility carries connotations that affect how people around the world view the United States, he noted.

“It’s my judgment that Guantanamo Bay has hurt the United States of America from an image standpoint, having nothing to do with the justice side of this that I think needs to be carried out in a just, fair way,” he explained.

Mullen commended the work of the U.S. troops conducting the mission there, saying they are carrying out their mission in way that “makes us all proud.”

Also during his visit to SOUTHCOM, Mullen praised the command’s recent humanitarian efforts in the region, including last summer’s deployment of the hospital ship, USNS Comfort, which provided medical care to 98,000 people in 12 countries.

“I really believe that if we do (these types of missions), it goes a long way to preventing any kind of conflict or outbreak,” he said. “And should we get to the point, tragically, that we have an outbreak or we have that kind of conflict, we’ll have relationships in advance that we can leverage, as opposed to creating them in the heat of the battle.”

SOUTHCOM is one of the military’s nine unified combatant commands. It’s responsible for providing contingency planning, operations and security cooperation for Central and South America; the Caribbean, except U.S. commonwealths, territories and possessions; Cuba; and the Bahamas and their territorial waters. Its area of operations encompasses more than 450 million people in 32 countries and 13 territories and protectorates.

(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Wimbish serves with U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs.)

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Adm. Michael G. Mullen, USN

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