Mullen Urges Communities to Embrace Returning Vets
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2011 The top U.S. military officer continued his campaign yesterday to encourage communities to help combat veterans transition after returning home and to embrace the attributes they bring to the nation.
“This is a generation that is wired to serve,” whether at the local, state, national or international level, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told an assembly at Arizona State University’s Phoenix campus. “They will make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Mullen recognized the “extraordinary sacrifices” combat veterans have made, and the fact that many have returned with physical wounds or unseen emotional scars. They’ve been “to hell and back” and have “seen things nobody else could have imagined,” performing exceptionally well on the battlefield, he said.
“Hands down, they are the best military” the United States or the world has ever seen, he added.
Now, as they settle into civilian communities and attempt to find jobs in a difficult economy, the chairman urged Americans to recognize all they have to offer.
“They bring home a potential that is unimaginable for the future of our country,” he said. “This is an exceptional group, and they will make a difference for a long time to come.”
Mullen recognized the Post-9/11 GI Bill as a big step in helping tens of thousands of veterans get the training and education many seek. But he also called communities a key part of helping combat veterans make a smooth transition following wartime service.
“If we can just open up our lens to be inclusive of them as they return home, with that little boost, I really believe they will take off and make a huge difference for the future,” he said.
Mullen also acknowledged the sacrifices military family members have made as their loved ones served repeated combat deployments.
The chairman recognized the support Americans have shown their men and women in uniform during the past decade of conflict. That support “makes all the difference in the world,” he said, contrasting it to the Vietnam War days, when the public didn’t support its military members.
Mullen blamed that abandonment, in part, for the high rates of homelessness among veterans. “We are better than that,” he said. “We can get at this problem.”
He pointed to the decades-old “disconnect” between the time, effort and money the military spends recruiting and training its service members and how it has handled their departure from the military. “When their time comes up and they have made the decision to leave the military, I hand them a duffle bag and say, ‘Have a nice life,’” he said. “That’s not an operative model for the world we are living in.”
A coordinated effort to help in smoothing veterans’ transition to civilian life will make them more likely to share positive stories about their experience, Mullen said, and in doing so, will inspire the next generation of military members.
“If we get this right,” he said, “they’ll essentially become our recruiters.”
Following his address, Mullen fielded a wide range of questions from the audience on international as well as personnel issues.
The chairman emphasized the importance of strong U.S.-Pakistani relations and international cooperation in addressing the crisis in Libya.
Asked about the Supreme Court’s decision that upholds the right of protestors to demonstrate at military funerals, Mullen said he recognizes it as a freedom protected under the First Amendment. But “it appalls me to the depth of my soul that anybody would do this,” he said.
Mullen also reiterated his support for the decision to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that has banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. He said he has been “unable to reconcile” between asking some people to serve and possibly even die for their country and demanding that they “live a lie every day.”
“This is not about changing anybody’s views,” he said. “It is about a policy I think is in complete conflict with our values.”