By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 22, 2008 - Navy Adm. Mike Mullen was one of four leaders spotlighted last night during a who's who of policymakers and policy enforcers that included scores of former heads of state, department secretaries, ambassadors and high-ranking military officers. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, media magnate Rupert Murdoch and Russian piano virtuoso Evgeny Kissin in accepting the Atlantic Council's award for Distinguished Military, International, Business and Artistic Leadership, respectively, in a gala here.
"Let there be no doubt that Adm. Mike Mullen is the right man in the right job at the right time for our nation, and his entire career has contributed to leading him to this point," retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, chairman of the Atlantic Council, said before presenting the chairman the award.
Mullen, one of few senior naval officers to hold four four-star assignments, oversaw one of the most transformative eras in naval history while serving as vice chief of naval operations, Jones said. The period recognized that family readiness was critical to the Navy's readiness.
"The policies put in place under his watch ... led to historically high retention rates and significantly higher operational readiness rates Navywide," Jones said, describing Mullen's tenure from August 2003 to October 2004, as he served under then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vernon E. Clark.
Jones added that Mullen also showed exceptional leadership serving as commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force Command, in Naples, and U.S. Naval Forces Europe, and as the 28th chief of naval operations.
"Ladies and gentleman, we can all be thankful Mike Mullen is at the helm," Jones said. "He's calm; he's thoughtful; he's reasonable; he's insightful; and he fully understands the magnitude of that task before him."
Apparently, he also has a sense of humor and humility.
Mullen, the last speaker to address the high-caliber international audience, began his remarks, "Good evening. I certainly recognize my place in the order tonight." But as the laughter subsided, the top military officer tempered the revelry by honoring deployed servicemembers of the United States and its allies.
"As we are here this evening enjoying this celebration, I am mindful of all those men and women who are serving in all of our countries around the world," he said. "Many of them are in harm's way this evening so that we might enjoy the freedom, the privileges, the opportunity that their service, in fact, provides."
The chairman then provided a sweeping assessment of global security, including countries where troops are stationed currently and where he expects they'll be needed in future operations.
Echoing comments made this month by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Mullen said security there is improved but fragile. Furthermore, he said, security is a necessary condition, but not sufficient, as diplomatic, political and economic progress is imperative for long-term stability.
Mullen said Iran routinely pushes its way into "realms of instability," and advocated that allied countries address Iran's variform influence in the Middle East: in Hezbollah, Hamas and in southern Iraq.
"I think for the ability to create stability in that part of the world, that not just this alliance but those who are allied will have to deal with Iran in the very near future," he said.
Afghanistan is "front and center" for allied Atlantic countries, Mullen said. He added that NATO countries must ensure that their contributions are sufficient in helping establish security in Afghanistan. In related comments, he stressed the need for allied countries to address threats emanating from Pakistan.
"We also must work hard, I think, to build non-NATO relationships," he added. "And there are those countries, those allies, who have joined us in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"They represent the best of those relationships," he continued, "countries who are responsible and who recognize in that responsibility that we can meet these challenges head on together much better than we can meet them individually."
In closing, Mullen said, the strength of international partnership lies in nations' shared hope for the future.
"As a community of nations, we've elected to lead, and we've chosen to work together to create a future where parents can raise their children without fear, with dignity and with hope," he said.
The Atlantic Council of the United States promotes constructive U.S. leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the central role of the Atlantic community in meeting the international challenges of the 21st century, according the organization's official Web site.