Radio Interview with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen on the G. Gordon Liddy Show
LIDDY: Admiral Mike Mullen, he is the Chief of Naval Operations, and as you might imagine he is a Naval Academy Graduate -- of the music -- and admiral, thanks so much for joining us.
ADM. MULLEN: How are you?
LIDDY: Well, thank you, and I’ve got a question for you.
ADM. MULLEN: Sure.
LIDDY: Last year in the Pentagon, my son, Commander Jim Liddy retired. He was at the time assigned working with the Assistant SECDEF for counter terrorism and low intensity warfare. So I knew he was doing that, but for the 20 years prior to that as a SEAL he was in 37 different countries, and all he will tell me is that he was working in the war on terror. Will you please tell me what you were doing with my son for 15 years?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I can say that your son served exceptionally well and he served in a wonderful part of our Navy with our Navy SEALs who are heavily involved -- one of the parts of the Navy they’re heavily involved in, the current effort of what we call the long war, this global war on terror, and they’re having a great impact. So I’m proud to say that I am able to associate myself with young men and women like your son.
LIDDY: Well, thank you, sir. Now I was last on extended active duty in the army, sorry about that, but 53 years ago, so I’m not really up to speed on what you all are doing these days, especially in the Navy, but I understand that you have ordered the establishment of a new Riverine Force for the Navy, and I know that in Vietnam those people played a very vital role. Can you tell us what these days you can use that force for?
ADM. MULLEN: Yes, sir, I can. Actually, we have put in place a new Riverine Force to initially, to actually create a squadron that will go to Iraq and relieve the Marines in a critical dam there called Haditha Dam, but that’ll be the initial squadron that will go out in about a year. They will be part of what is today, almost 4,000 Sailors that we have on the ground in Iraq and in that theater what we call the CENTCOM theater that we’ve got almost 10,000 Sailors on the ground throughout the theater, including the 4,000 that I mentioned in Iraq. So in the Riverine Force that will be an initial place that we’ll go, but down the road it will not be unlike the force that we had in Vietnam. It’s to provide the kind of security and capability in the rivers and in the waters close to shore, in ports and harbors and countries all over the world with whom we think we need to engage both, in particular, in a friendly way.
LIDDY: Well, Admiral Mullen, I remember the Second World War very, very well because I was 15 when it ended, and I know what a huge Navy we had at that time. The Navy’s down to 281 ships right now, which I think is far too few, although nobody has actually said in the White House. I thought that Reagan’s idea of a 600 ship Navy was about right these days. Are there plans or do you have plans to seek more ships for the Navy, which I think you really need?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, actually I do have plans to do that. I’ve been in this job since last July, and as I returned I went on a tour over in Europe for only about 7 months, but as I returned to Washington our Navy was down, as you said to 281 ships, and I think that is too small. I’ve actually submitted a plan to Congress to bring that number up to 313 and we’re headed in that direction. My goal is to create some stability in how we build ships and really how we build fleets. I also remember the goal of a 600-ship Navy. We don’t need that many ships right now. In fact, the ships that we’re building and the airplanes that we’re building are much more capable than the ships that we had back in the 1980s or were thinking about in the 1980s. That said, we do have to have enough and we have a global responsibility, and we have relationships all over the world that we have to sustain. And it takes a certain number of ships to do that. So we need to get the number back up above 300 and we need support from Congress, we need support from our industry, but most of all this is the American people’s Navy, and we need support out there for this approach.
LIDDY: But Admiral, speaking of this being the American people’s Navy, it is now, as are all our military forces, a very highly selective all volunteer force. How is the Navy doing on recruiting? Are you meeting your goals? Are you getting the quality of people that is necessary to operate all this gee-whiz high tech stuff that you’ve got?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I know you said it’s been a long time since you’ve been in. I’ve actually been in myself since the late sixties, so I came up through Vietnam and then through the establishment of the all-volunteer force. I think that was an incredibly important decision that this country made, and I support it fully. The quality of the young men and women that are in the United States Navy today are the best I’ve ever seen. They are, and our recruiting numbers right now, are very, very good. They’ve stayed good. Our retention numbers – well over half of those who come in decide to make – to basically reenlist or stay in after their first hitch, which is a significant achievement, and those numbers are staying up. I was aboard one of our aircraft carriers about a month ago, and in walking around the carrier talking to young Sailors, the number of young Sailors that ask me how they could -- cause they know we’re sending Sailors to Iraq and Afghanistan -- how could they volunteer and get in the queue to go do that, because that’s where they know the need is, that really buoyed my spirits in terms of the kind of young people that we have and the recognition of what they have to do and where the fight is and their eagerness to contribute to it. So right now we’re in great shape and these things change over time, but it’s a very positive environment in the Navy right now.
LIDDY: Okay, thank you. I was just recently over in Iraq and I was discussing the standing up of the Iraqi army, and one of the problems that we have with the Iraqis there is they have really no concept of a non-commissioned officer corps. I think you’ll agree with me and everyone who’s ever been an officer will agree that it’s the non-coms that really run the services and they just let the officers think that they do. How has the Navy’s non-commissioned officer corps, the chiefs and what have you?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I grew up -- as you certainly stated -- I grew up and I was trained by the chiefs that I was working with, and while theoretically they were working for me, in the end I was really working for them. I’m very fond of saying that in the Navy the chiefs run the Navy and they do. They are not in charge of it, but they make it run. That has been true for almost four decades that I’ve been in the Navy, and it continues to be true today. I’m heartened by what I see. They are dedicated, outstanding professionals, and they are incredibly well supported by their families, not just the chiefs -- but all our families support our Sailors which is really critical in these times. I’m fond of saying that overall readiness is tied directly to our family readiness and I’ve put a lot of emphasis on making sure our families are in good shape. But the chiefs, our non-coms, are in great shape, and they’re running it.
LIDDY: But Admiral, all on the Quadrennial Defense Review, which is called for by Congress, calls for the Navy to shift some of your submarine force and other forces to the Pacific, and I wonder if you care to comment if that has anything to do with the perceived threat proposed by the big military buildup of China? Are they thinking long term?
ADM. MULLEN: I think that’s a fair question, and it’s a concern that we all have. Clearly, the Pacific is a vital part of our future, an awful lot of trade. Over 90 percent of our trade comes in and out of this country by the sea. So having a secure environment at sea is really critical and the stability in that part of the world, the Western Pacific, is also critical. And China has clearly invested heavily. They’ve got an economy, which is booming. They’ve also invested heavily on the military side, so we’re watching both. We would certainly welcome a China that is economically sound – would be a very positive addition to the world economy and peace and stability. On the other hand, if there are other motivations there, that certainly would be a concern, and it’s those motivations that I think we need to understand for the Navy because it’s such a heavily maritime area. There’s so much water out there. That theater is a big theater for the Navy. The Pacific Ocean is big, as I’m sure you know, and getting from point A to point B takes time, and you have to have the assets, the ships and airplanes out there to be able to do that. So that’s the reason for the shift.
LIDDY: Admiral, one last question. It’s a technical one, like one reads about a number of different navies fielding, these are electric submarines these days.
ADM. MULLEN: Right.
LIDDY: Are there advantages to those or are they just cheaper?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, they are clearly less expensive. My position with our own Navy is that we stay in nuclear powered submarines and it’s tied to sustaining it. It’s tied to – you know we are a maritime nation and we are around the world, and having the kind of sustained capability that nuclear power gives you in a submarine is a great advantage to us. That said, other nations who develop diesel submarines develop them for their own reasons and they’re very good submarines. They just don’t have some of the assets that our submarines have, so that, as far as our future is concerned, I would continue to expect us to stay in the nuclear world.
LIDDY: Admiral, well, thank you so much for joining me. I know you’re an extremely busy man. We are really grateful that you chose to give us some of your (inaudible).
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, Mr. Liddy. I appreciate the time.
LIDDY: Thank you, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: Yep, bye-bye.
LIDDY: That was Admiral Michael Mullen. Thank you very much, Admiral.
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you.
LIDDY: God bless you.
ADM. MULLEN: Okay, same to you.