Mullen Discusses Afghanistan, Iraq, ‘Don’t Ask’ on Letterman
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 14, 2011 America’s top military officer explained what members of the U.S. military have gone through during 10 years of war to the audience of the “Late Show with David Letterman” last night.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shares a laugh with host David Letterman during an interview on the "Late Show with David Letterman" in New York, June 13, 2011.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told David Letterman that the American people need to know what their armed forces are doing and the sacrifices service members and their families are making.
“We’re in our tenth year of war,” the chairman said. “We’ve had almost 2 million men and women serve in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of them have seen horrors we can’t even imagine.”
These soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen have deployed repeatedly. “Some of our big units, which would be a brigade of 4,000 or 5,000 soldiers, have deployed for a year at a time -- four, five, six times,” he said. And then the units are home for a year.
This has caused enormous stress, Mullen said. “We’ve lost upwards of 6,000 individuals, very special people who sacrifice their lives,” he said. “We’ve had tens of thousands physically wounded, lost limbs. We’ve had tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands suffer the invisible wounds of traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress.”
The military makes up less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population, the chairman said. He wants America to do right by this generation of veterans.
“They’re looking for jobs. They come back to a GI bill that's very good. They want to go to school,” he said. “There’s a sea of goodwill out there that wants to make a difference in their lives. And so I’ve worked hard to try to focus on that. We’re only 1 percent of the population, and yet they’ve marched off to war and done what America has asked. They’ve done it as well if not better than ever in our history. And I’m very proud of them. We should, from my perspective, work hard to repay that debt.”
The chairman wants the American people to understand the circumstances of service members and their families. “What I am trying to do is bring voice to their sacrifice, and a level of awareness to Americans of what they’ve been through,” he said. “These are the best young men and women I’ve ever served with.”
Mullen also discussed Afghanistan, Iraq and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal with Letterman.
The chairman said defense leaders are focused on transition in Afghanistan. After surging 30,000 additional troops into the country, coalition forces now are looking at transitioning security responsibility to Afghan forces. Next month, the transition begins in seven areas of the country.
“We’ll meet here over the course of the next several weeks with the president to determine [which] troops will start to come out next month,” Mullen said. “We don’t know what the pace is or the number.”
The transition will be complete in 2014, the chairman said.
The United States still has 48,000 troops in Iraq, down from almost 200,000 a few years ago. All American troops will be out of the country by the end of the year under the current agreement with Iraq, he said. “Whether the Iraqis will ask us for some kind of small footprint in the future is to be determined here in the next few months,” he said.
The chairman is optimistic about Iraq’s future. “From what I have seen … [Iraqi leaders] seem to be focusing on their country as opposed to their individual parties in their country or the kind of sectarian split that has been so bad for them in the past,” he said. “I’m actually encouraged. I think economically they will be in pretty good shape. They’ve got a lot of oil and they will, I think, move forward in the next several years to make that a viable part of their future. So I’m actually optimistic.”
Mullen explained his position on repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law. “I testified in front of Congress a year ago February that I personally couldn’t reconcile an institution like the military, which values integrity in everything that we do, yet asking people to come to work every single day and lie about who they are,” he said. “That is how I felt then. That’s how I feel now. The law has been changed. We’re right now in the middle of conducting training prior to certification. Certification will take place … certainly in the next couple of months.”