Panetta Praises Mullen, Welcomes Dempsey
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va., Sept. 30, 2011 During his tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen was critical to preserving the effectiveness and health of the 2.2 million people making up America’s armed forces, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
Panetta spoke during the hail and farewell ceremony on Summerall Field here as Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey replaced Mullen as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mullen took office in 2007 as the military and the United States faced a critical time. “We faced hard fighting and heavy casualties in Iraq as the surge troops battled a determined insurgency,” Panetta said. “Afghanistan was slipping away as then Taliban expanded its presence throughout the country. And our military, particularly the ground forces, was under tremendous strain -- deployment after deployment.”
The U.S. military was still the strongest military in the world, but it was under stress. Mullen was determined to preserve the health of the all-volunteer force and he succeeded, the secretary said.
Mullen worked with Army and Marine leaders to reduce the burden on the ground forces -- reducing the length of combat tours and giving forces more time between deployments. He also worked tirelessly and spoke out often on the stress the combat forces faced in these deployments.
Mullen and his wife, Deborah, also highlighted the impact multiple deployments were having on military families, and sought ways to enlist the American people in helping those who bore the brunt of the burden.
Even as fighting raged in Iraq, Mullen saw that the war in Afghanistan needed more attention, people and resources. He also called for a new, regional approach to combating al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The chairman made many trips to Afghanistan and especially Pakistan, where he acted as a military diplomat to leaders in the region, especially to Pakistani Army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Mullen also made progress in the Asia-Pacific region.
“He worked to prevent a dangerous escalation of the conflict on the Korean peninsula and helped Japan and South Korea forge closer ties,” Panetta said. As chairman, he added, Mullen also cemented ties with Australia and re-opened military-to-military contacts with China.
The secretary said Mullen helped to bring about the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“At a moment in time when few thought it was possible, his courageous testimony and leadership on this issue were major factors in bringing about this important change,” Panetta said. “His courage and honesty achieved this milestone in the history of equal rights for all.”
Mullen’s leadership, candor, straight talk, compassion and concern for the troops “have set him apart, and he has set an exceptionally high standard for the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” the secretary said.
Panetta called Mullen “part warrior, part diplomat, part mediator, spokesman, fighter and leader.”
Panetta welcomed Dempsey as the 18th chairman. He hailed the general as a great combat leader.
“Marty truly came up from the grass roots,” Panetta said. “He knows about people; he knows about hard work; he knows about sacrifice.
Panetta said that President Barack Obama’s choice of Dempsey to succeed Mullen was inspired.
“He brings a keen intellect, proven leadership, strategic vision, and most of all, humanity to that critical post,” the secretary said of Dempsey’s abilities. “And, oh yes, he tells it like it is as well.”
Panetta said the change bodes well for the United States.
“I am supremely confident of the future because we have the strongest military force in our history and in the history of the world,” the secretary said. “And it is strong exactly because we can replace one great warrior with another.
“The men and women in uniform are the greatest asset we have,” Panetta continued. “They are our greatest strength. And we celebrate that strength today by honoring these two great leaders.”