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Mullen Seeks to Strengthen U.S. Military Ties to Latin America

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SANTIAGO, Chile, March 3, 2009 – The “umbrella crisis” in the financial world is complicating an already complicated world, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen shared his top three priorities with students at the Chilean War College.

The global financial crisis will affect all security priorities, Mullen said. “It may not affect them immediately, meaning in weeks or months, but it will affect them dramatically in the year or two or three we all face,” he told the students.

The chairman is visiting Latin American countries to help improve and maintain military-to-military contacts. He arrived here last night from Brazil.

Mullen said one reason he is traveling to Latin America is “to make sure the relationships that are strong get stronger … and other relationships that need to get stronger are recognized,” he said.

Latin America is every bit as important as any other part of the world, the chairman said. “That it is not in a crisis, as the Middle East is, is a credit to an awful lot of people,” he said. “What I want to make sure is that we are participating in a way that we can participate, connect, strengthen so that it never is in a crisis.”

No one has been particularly good at predicting world crises, the chairman said, but he added that he feels safe saying that no matter where a crisis erupts, the financial meltdown will exacerbate it. The financial uncertainty will affect the Middle East, making the “constant turmoil, constant churn” in the region even more unpredictable, he said.

At the top of the chairman’s priority list is the greater Middle East, including everything from the Mediterranean shore to Pakistan. “At the top of this is Afghanistan and Pakistan,” he told the students.

While conditions in Iraq are getting better and the United States will withdraw troops from the country, a lot of diplomatic and governance work remains to be done, he said. Al-Qaida is diminished in Iraq, he added, but is increasingly active in other parts of the world.

The admiral said another major priority is the state of the American military. He told the students he recently visited Fort Campbell, Ky., the home of the 101st Airborne Division. Many of the soldiers there have served four long deployments, he said, and the stress of those repeated deployments on servicemembers and their families is a concern.

“There are very few places I go to now where spouses aren’t talking to my wife about their own version of post-traumatic stress and that the kids, who have not seen their mothers or fathers a lot for the last five or six years, are having pretty significant mental health challenges as well,” he acknowledged.

The military has to do right by the men and women in uniform, Mullen said. The U.S. military is a combat-hardened force, he noted, and the captains and sergeants “make decisions to stay.”

“No matter what I buy, where I operate, or how I operate in the future, if I can hang on to them and have them be the ‘seed corn’ for the United States military, it will continue to be the best its ever been,” the admiral said.

The Army and Marine Corps are growing, and the Navy and Air Force are contributing forces on the ground to help relieve the stress on the Marines and Army, he told the students.

The other top priority is the rest of the globe, Mullen said. He told the Chilean students he wants to make sure the U.S. military is engaged in this part of the world. He noted that he grew up in Southern California, not far from Mexico.

“But I was trained to look east and west, and we have to get better at looking north and south,” he said. “We have to pay attention to each other. We have wonderful personal ties. We have economic ties. We’ve got to figure out how to pull together.”

During economic crises, countries want to withdraw or isolate themselves, Mullen said. “Leaders just have to understand that is not acceptable,” he added. “Leaders have to reach out and ensure these relationships get stronger so we can depend on these relationships.”

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

Related Sites:
State Department Background Note on Chile
Special Report: Travels With Mullen

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