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Mullens Reflect on 40 Years of Marriage, Service

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 12, 2010 – Forty years ago today, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and his wife, Deborah, said, “I do” -- not just to each other, but to four decades in the Navy.

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his wife Deborah, USS Dewey ship's sponsor; and Navy Cmdr. Warren R. Buller, the USS Dewey’s commanding officer, watch the crew bring the ship to life at the commissioning ceremony for the Navy's newest Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, Calif., March 6, 2010. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad McNeeley

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The couple, who frequently appear together to discuss issues important to military families, recently spoke about their own military life to the armed forces’ youngest family members.

In a video taped earlier this month as part of an Armed Forces Foundation Veterans Day message for elementary-age children of servicemembers, the Mullens recounted their earlier days of long deployments and frequent moves with their two sons.

“It’s been a wonderful, wonderful life,” the admiral said. “But Deborah sacrificed a lot for my career, and so did our two boys.”

Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in his final year at the U.S. Naval Academy when the couple met – introduced by their mothers – at a wedding. Their first date was the 1967 Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

Mrs. Mullen acknowledged she faced a tough decision about marrying into the military. She knew the lifestyle was hard, she said, and with the Vietnam War in full force, her husband certainly would be sent.

Still, love endured and the couple married in 1970. “I only expected we would be in the Navy about five years,” she said.

It didn’t take long, though, before the Mullens realized they were in the military for the long haul. Over time, she said, she came to see that “Mike and the Navy were perfect for each other.”

“I learned that this was more than just a job to Mike,” she said. “It was his way of life, and it would be my way of life and that of our children.”

The couple noted the challenges all military families face with frequent moves, new schools, and having to make new friends.

“As we moved around, … we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was best for our two boys,” the admiral said. “We tried to always focus on where we would live next, the transition, and where were the good schools. Too often, I had to move ahead, and Deborah and the boys had to figure it out on their own.”

But overall, Mrs. Mullen said, the nomadic Navy lifestyle presented “enormous opportunities” for the family, and their children thrived by learning to be independent and open to change.

“As they look back,” she said of their grown sons, “they see it as a very rewarding experience, and a part of life they cherish.”

While the military lifestyle worked out well for their own children, the couple said they know some have a difficult time adjusting.

“I worry a great deal about the children and their ability to make these adjustments,” Mrs. Mullen told an interviewer. The sacrifices military children make and their ability to adjust is something everyone should notice, she said.

“We’re actually inspired by these children,” she said. “They have extraordinary challenges, and I don’t think our country realizes all the sacrifices they make.”

The chairman and his wife expressed their appreciation for the sacrifices made by children of military families. “We really do believe you are the greatest,” the admiral said. “You’re part of a greater whole of a nation who care so much about what you’re doing.”

“We owe a great debt to you for what you help your mom and dad do for our country,” Mrs. Mullen added.

The Armed Forces Foundation is a Washington-based nonprofit organization that provides financial and other assistance to military families.


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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

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The Armed Forces Foundation

Click photo for screen-resolution imageChairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and his wife, Deborah, participate in a USO care package packing party in the Pentagon, July 2, 2010. The USO has delivered more than 1.3 million care packages to service members stationed overseas. The packages contain items such as international calling cards, toiletries and entertainment items that provide a touch of home to service members. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer Chad J. McNeeley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNavy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deborah, meet Sabrina Wetherhill and her baby, Elijah Jones, at the Veterans Leadership Program of western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, April 19, 2010. The program provides essential housing, employment and other vital supportive services to eligible veterans, troops and their families. Wetherhill is the wife of a veteran receiving services through the program. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley  
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