Mullen Urges Joint Staff to Speed Up Warfighter Support
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 23, 2008 The nation’s top military officer called on the Joint Staff today to speed up efforts to get new capabilities to warfighters and to focus on building capabilities needed to win not just the current war, but future wars as well.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told his staff during a town-hall meeting that they’re “really making a difference in these challenging times” and directly affecting troops on the front lines.
“In the end, those are our customers. That’s who we need to be thinking about,” Mullen told the staffers who gathered for a standing-room-only session in the Pentagon Auditorium. “How do we deliver more to them, more rapidly [and] more effectively, so that they can do their job? We need to keep that front and center in everything we’re doing.”
Mullen cited needs ranging from more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to better irregular warfare training, and called on his staff to step up its support for these and other critical programs.
“We really do have to lean into this, recognizing these are very real requirements [and that] lives are on the line,” he said. “What are the best ideas? How do we harvest those great ideas and then generate and get them out to the fight as rapidly as possible?”
Mullen reported on visits within the past two weeks, where he met with servicemembers and their leaders at Fort Stewart, Ga.; Nellis Air Force Base and Creech Air Force Base, Nev.; McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis, Wash.; and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Throughout the visits, Mullen said, he was struck to see servicemembers with recent combat experience jumping through hoops to pass on the lessons they learned. It’s all tied, he said, to “a sense of life and death” and troops’ recognition that they can help protect their buddies on the front lines.
“We know people are getting killed in this war. We’ve got friends out there,” Mullen said troops told him during his visits. “We want to get there as fast as we can with the kinds of capabilities that make a difference in their lives and their ability to fight.”
At Fort Lewis’ Battle Command Training Center, Mullen said, he saw new doctrine being incorporated into training scenarios at a fraction of the time it once took. “They’ve basically reduced that cycle time dramatically and pushed it into the brigades going out,” he said, giving deploying troops and their leaders a leg up when they arrive in the combat theater.
Mullen said he saw a similar phenomenon at Nellis Air Force Base. There, new tactics, techniques and procedures that once took two years to be incorporated into training now are taking about two months.
Similarly, trainers at Twentynine Palms have made broad strides introducing deploying Marines to the latest enemy improvised explosive device techniques being used in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Cultural training has moved to a whole new level, too, with more than 400 Iraqi role players bringing realism to the training scenarios, Mullen said.
“The whole idea of ‘How can I move this all more quickly?’ is key,” he said.
As troops in the field strive to put lessons learned into place, Mullen urged the Joint Staff to evaluate how it can better support these efforts. “We’ve got to focus on these wars, move as fast as we can in these wars we are in to generate capabilities [and] to meet requirements,” he said.
Mullen shared insights from recent town-hall sessions and took questions from the Joint Staff during today’s all-hands meeting on topics ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan to challenges facing the force:
Newly redeployed members of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart and 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis who were part of the surge force in Iraq know they made “a huge” difference in Iraq, Mullen reported.
“They left Iraq in a different place … and they created opportunities that a year ago many of us didn’t think were possible,” he said. “They know it. They’re proud of what they’ve done.”
Iraq has seen progress politically, economically and from a security standpoint, Mullen said. He noted that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has taken “some pretty bold steps” in recent months, particularly in Basra, Sadr City and most recently, Mosul.
Mullen expressed hope that if conditions in Iraq continue to improve, troops there could be freed up to fill shortfalls in Afghanistan. But for now, he said, it’s too soon to declare victory in Iraq.
"We're not at the sustainable point yet,” he said. “We’re not at the irreversible point yet. … We still have a ways to go."
After last year’s “pretty significant impact on the Taliban,” Mullen conceded that violence is up this year. Taliban fighters have begun applying asymmetric techniques, including use of improvised explosive devices.
Two additional Marine Corps units – one embedded with the Afghan army in the west as trainers and the other as fighters in the south – have had “an extraordinary impact.”
But Mullen said there’s still a shortfall of troops, and he expressed hope that if progress continues in Iraq, it could free up additional U.S. troops to serve in Afghanistan.
Lessons learned in Iraq are being applied in Afghanistan, but Mullen said it’s “going to take a long time” before success can be declared there. “It’s a significant challenge that is going to take a significant period of time,” he said.
The Afghan National Army is gaining in capability and has the warrior ethos needed to take the fight to the enemy, but Mullen said other problems, including a particularly weak economy, continue hampering Afghanistan’s progress.
Ultimately, the desired “end state” in Afghanistan will be tied to Pakistan, Mullen said.
“We need a plan and a strategy for both, because they are linked and have been for many, many centuries,” he said. “Having a positive outcome in Afghanistan is also tied to a positive outcome long-term in our relationship with Pakistan.”
On stress on the force:
Mullen found “very hard-pressed Army brigades and support structure” at both Fort Stewart and Fort Lewis, but said he was impressed to find a sense of resilience as well.
Wherever he traveled, Mullen said, troops told him point-blank they need more “dwell time” at home between deployments. “Whether a specialist or an O-6 or anybody in between, that message came to me loud and clear,” he said.
Troops are happy that deployments have been cut from 15 to 12 months, but the next priority needs to be to increase the time between those deployments, Mullen said. This will not only give troops some much-needed downtime, but will also give them an opportunity to “train up on a broader spectrum of capabilities and requirements” without having “that next deployment staring them in the face,” Mullen said.
On the future of the Air Force:
Airmen at both Colorado bases he visited had a lot of questions for Mullen about the resignations of Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, and the impact of those resignations on the Air Force.
By holding themselves accountable for problems in the Air Force’s nuclear force, Wynne and Moseley already have taken “one of the most important steps to getting this right for the future,” Mullen said. “It’s a big step in the right direction.”
Despite challenges the Air Force faces, Mullen emphasized, it remains the “best Air Force in the world,” one “manned by the best young people we have ever had.”
Mullen conceded that the Air Force faces a period of change as new leaders take the helm, and he called on the entire U.S. military to assist during the transition.
“We all have to pull on these oars together,” he said. “This isn’t just about the United States Air Force. This is about the United States military and the joint team of which we are -- every single one of us -- a part.”
On the future force:
History shows that it’s close to impossible to know where U.S. troops will operate in the future, he said. “We don’t predict very well, and it’s a very dangerous, … uncertain world,” he said. “So you’ve got to have … a robust capability across the full spectrum of capabilities, to include irregular warfare as well as conventional.”
That means troops will need to be ready for the foreseeable future to deal with not just asymmetric warfare, but also more traditional kinds of conflict, he said.
Mullen said he’s often asked during field visits what the armed forces of the future will look like. “I’m not exactly sure what it looks like, except I think there’s a healthy spot for every service,” he said, emphasizing continued emphasis on not only joint, but also interagency cooperation.
On support for wounded troops:
The Defense Department, U.S. government and the nation as a whole have “moved a great deal in the last 15 months or so, but we still have a long way to go,” in supporting wounded troops, Mullen said. Despite strides made, Mullen said, the support system still moves too slowly, and too often pits “an individual or family against the world.”
“We have to kick it across from the other side,” and generate more complete, long-term support for servicemembers who have sacrificed so much for the country, he said.
There’s “a great deal of goodwill out in America,” and people want to reach out and help wounded troops for the long term, he said.
Ultimately, wounded troops simply want a chance to go to school, start a family, own a home, hold down a job and contribute to society, Mullen said. “They still want the American dream, to be all they can be,” he said.
On reserve component contributions:
Progress seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan would not have been possible without the contributions of the reserve components, Mullen said.
“We could not be and would not be anywhere close to where we are in either one of these fights without the extraordinary accomplishments and support of the Guard and reserve,” he said. “We just flat-out would not be close.”
These troops “have made an extraordinary difference, and we should all be proud of that,” he said. “They have sacrificed a lot just like those of us on active duty.”
While praising the troops themselves, Mullen took the opportunity to thank their “remarkably supportive” family members, and employers who have toughed it out as their workers went off to serve in uniform. “They have contributed enormously to those men and women who have served,” he said.