By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2010 - During a week-long tour through Southwest Asia, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spent time focusing on what he calls his No. 1 priority: servicemembers and their families.
"No matter what happens in the world, no matter what equipment I buy, no matter what concepts I adopt for the future, it's really you that make the difference," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told troops during a town hall gathering Feb. 17. "You are the center of gravity for the adjustments that must be made as we move to the future."
And families, the admiral said, have emerged as more important than ever.
"Families were critical before, but I've watched what families have been doing since 9/11 in supporting multiple deployments. That service and sacrifice is special at a really critical time," Mullen said, noting that many families have gone through as many as five deployments within a 10-year period.
"We couldn't do it without you and your families," the admiral told members of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing during a town hall yesterday. "You couldn't be here, deploy and rest easy if things weren't going well at home and for the support that your families have given."
Family support, Mullen said, "is vital to everything that we do."
"And what our families have done and our extended families have done that make it possible for us to serve at this extraordinary time has truly been exceptional," he added. "So I am extremely grateful for that as well."
Mullen said that he hasn't seen a more challenging time in his 42-year military career, and the current force is the best he has ever seen.
"We move forward into the future in better shape than we've ever been," he said, "and whatever the challenges are there that are to be met, they will be met because of you, because of our people and our families."
Speaking passionately about another of his priorities, Mullen encouraged troops at all levels to be good leaders. "I focus on [speaking about] leadership wherever I go," he said, "because I believe anything is possible with great leadership."
Mullen emphasized that leaders are present at every pay grade, and aren't necessarily the most senior members of the organization.
"I have been greatly influenced throughout my career by courageous leaders that made a difference when things really got tough," he said. "I have seen the toughest problems we've ever had be solved by nothing else than ... individual leaders who are willing to take risks in the toughest kinds of situations."
Leading during a time of change is the toughest time for a leader, Mullen said. Nothing, he added, is more important to military success than good leaders.
"I have great expectations for ... everybody wearing a uniform to continue to lead," Mullen said. "Take care of those around you, take care of those who are in your charge, take care of your peers, and also take care of your seniors."
The admiral reminded the servicemembers that everyone who has experienced success has had leaders who contributed to that success. "We got here because somebody made a difference in our lives," he said, "whether it was a coach, a teacher, a command sergeant major, a senior chief petty officer, a second lieutenant."
Mullen urged servicemembers to try to make that same difference in someone else's life. "We are a growing institution that depends on that," he said. "This extends across the full spectrum of who we are, how we take care of ourselves [and] how we treat each other, which should be exactly like we want to be treated."