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Mullen Accepts Work Life Balance Award for Servicemembers

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2010 – To maintain the U.S. position of having the strongest military in the world, leaders must ensure that servicemembers and their families always “are the center of gravity,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said last night.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses the audience at the 2010 Work Life Legacy Award Dinner in New York City, June 14, 2010. The award was created to capture the stories of those behind the work life movement. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeely

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

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen made the comments in New York City as he accepted the Families and Work Institute’s 2010 Work Life Legacy Award on behalf of the nation’s 2.2 million servicemembers and their families.

“I’m incredibly appreciative of this recognition,” he said. “It really goes to the men and women who serve and their families, who are doing exactly what their leaders are asking of them. Their sacrifices have been great. Too many of them have not come home. They are the center of gravity for our military and our future.”

The challenge, Mullen said, is how to change the paradigm so that servicemembers, rather than the institutions they serve, are at the forefront.

As the top uniformed officer, Mullen said, people ask him about the military’s future. “My bet on the future of the military is on its people,” he said. “If we get it right with the people and meet their needs, they will more than meet ours, no matter what the mission or where it is.”

Too often, the chairman acknowledged, the military is not meeting its people’s needs. He spoke of his recent trips to Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Benning, Ga., where he met with junior officers who have deployed two or three times in the four to six years they’ve been in the Army.

“The message I got from them is, essentially, ‘I need a life,’” Mullen said. “They love what they do. They’re incredibly good at it. But it’s balance they seek in so many ways.”

After nine years of war and multiple deployments, work-life balance is at the forefront of military challenges, the chairman said. “We are very much out of balance, and we need to get back into balance as rapidly as we can.”

There have been improvements in that time, Mullen said, including in medical care, spousal employment programs and service programs such as Navy sabbaticals for which sailors can take up to two years off without penalty.

It was those types of successes that the institute cited in presenting Mullen with the award. Ted Childs, the Work Life Legacy Awards chairman, spoke of Mullen’s intellectual courage in speaking out for gays to serve openly in the military, his strategic insight in connecting economics with national security, and his work to improve diversity, particularly at his alma mater, the Naval Academy, which is graduating record numbers of women and minorities.

“[Mullen is] committed to his mission, loves his people, and [is] anchored in principle,” Childs said in presenting the award.

Mullen advised other leaders in very-senior positions to surround themselves with likeminded people.

“You’ve got to put a cadre of leaders together who believe like you do to make things happen,” he said, “because when you don’t, the system pushes back against you very hard.”

On his work for increased diversity, Mullen said increasing opportunities for women and minorities in uniform reaches beyond individuals and that is good for the whole country.

“Fundamentally, I believe that we have to represent the fullness of our country,” he said. “To the extent that we do, it will strengthen us; to the degree that we don’t, we drift away and will wake up one day and see how detached we are from the rest of the country, and that would be a disaster.”

Speaking of challenges that lie ahead in the military, Mullen said it is his responsibility to raise awareness of problems and work toward solutions. Families have never been more integral to military successes than they are today, he said, and many are paying the price.

“We see spouses at home very, very pressed,” Mullen said, “and many as stressed as those [servicemembers] in theater.”

That should improve, he said, with longer dwell times at home between deployments, as U.S. forces draw down from Iraq.

Leaders should continue to work for families, but improved work-life balance also takes personal responsibility, Mullen said, noting his own challenge in putting away his BlackBerry after hours.

“We live in a time of technology where you could work every waking moment,” he said. “Too many of us do that. But we need to grab that phrase of ‘emotional availability’ for our family.”


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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

Related Sites:
Families and Work Institute


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