Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Sustaining Member luncheon Oct. 8 that the U.S. Army “is the best counter-insurgency force in the world,” but warned that the nation must not lose its ability to fight a conventional conflict. And he emphasized that the nation must do a better job of caring for its warriors, particularly those who have suffered physical or mental wounds, and their families.
Mullen, who came to his current position from the Navy’s top office, said he and his wife, Deborah, “feel a bit closer to the Army than the Navy now” as he has tried to learn what the Army has gone through in seven years of war.
The admiral noted that as chief of naval operations he increased the number of Navy personnel, such as Seabees, EOD and logistics specialist, sent to augment the ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, because “this is a national war, not an Army and Marine Corps war and we all need to help.” But he acknowledged that it has been the two land forces “that have borne the burden of the fighting and the dying and the wounds.”
From his visits to the combat zones, Mullen said, “I truly believe that the Army is the center of gravity for our military, and that includes the Guard and Reserves. We have to make sure we support and take care of them and their families. They truly are a national treasure.”
After seven years of war, Mullen said the Army is “the best and most combat-harden Army this nation has ever known and the world has ever known. We must make sure it stays that way.”
In describing the things he has learned about the Army since becoming the nation’s top military officer, he said it has mastered counter-insurgency “and did it all in a remarkably short period of time.” He recalled on recent visits to Iraq walking streets in Baghdad and Mosul that would have been too dangerous to trod before.
Although the Sunni “awakening” in Anbar province and the truce by militant cleric Moqtada al Sadr helped, he said, “what really turned it around was the counter-insurgency tactics our troops employed and perfected… The key now is not to lose all of that expertise and to refine and apply it in the future.”
But, he added, “it would be irresponsible for the Army and the nation to loss our conventional war skills.”
From his experiences as CNO and his visits to Army units where artillery officers complained of not getting to practice those skills, Mullen said he worried that the military would focus too much on the current conflicts. “We still face very real threats from regional powers with robust conventional capabilities and, in some case, nuclear,” he said.
Mullen acknowledged that “it’s hard to modernize in the midst of two wars, but we don’t get to pick and choose.”
He said there has been dramatic progress but it must continue.
The admiral focused much of his speech on the quality of today’s service members and the impact of persistent conflict on them and their families.
One of the things he has learned about the Army, he said, was that hooah is “more than a battlecry, it’s a way of life. It means you’ll never quit, you’ll never surrender, you’ll never leave your buddies and your proud of what you’ve achieved.”
He recalled a visit to a brigade in the 101st Airborne division at a desolate outpost in Afghanistan where he awarded a lot of medals, including a Silver Star. The soldiers were proud of the stability they had provided to the previously violent area, but “they lost a lot of good soldiers and buddies. We all need to pay attention to that. Not just to the heroes we lost, but to what it means to those who were with them.” Those losses will affect them the rest of their lives, he said.
Mullen said the future of the Army “is very much tied to those young people in the fight today.” Keeping them in service and taking care of their families “is as important as anything else we do now to ensure that our future is solid. They really are the future of the United States Army.”
The admiral said another thing he has learned as chairman is that too many of the military’s programs have not adapted to wartime realities. Too many soldiers and their families are running up against restrictions that waste their time and deny them the services and benefits they deserve, he said.
He particularly cited problems in getting disability benefits and services to personnel being discharged for combat wounds. Although there have been improvements in coordination between VA and the military, more needs to be done, he said.
Mullen also voiced concern about the growing problem of warriors suffering from PTSD and said leaders must do more to remove the stigma of reporting mental problems.
The troops, he said, “have been spectacularly strong through seven years of war, but they are brittle. We simply can’t forget them.”
Click Here for the transcript of Adm. Michael Mullen's Address at the Sustaining Member's Luncheon