By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 5, 2010 - Leaders need self-reflection and sober analysis in all situations, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the National Prayer Breakfast here yesterday. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and many other government leaders attended.
Mullen told a story from the Korean War that illustrated his point.
An Army platoon was under heavy attack, Mullen said. "They hunkered down in a small clearing, making the best of what little cover they could find, and tried desperately to hold on against what seemed to be terrible odds," he said. "Every now and then, the platoon sergeant noticed that his young lieutenant would dash behind a big rock and sit for a minute or two and then dash back out and start issuing new commands – 'Move here, move there, shift your fire high, shift it low.'"
After an hour or so of combat and suffering only a few casualties, the platoon chased off their attackers and began to safely make their way back to base, Mullen said. "On the walk back, the sergeant approached the lieutenant and asked him, 'Exactly what were you doing behind that rock, sir?'"
The officer said he needed time to think, to adjust. "So I kept asking myself three questions: What am I doing, what am I not doing and how can I make up the difference?" Mullen said. "Now, I don't know if that story is really true or not. I'm told it is. I really like it, because it illustrates perfectly the deepest challenge of leadership during difficult times: that of self-reflection and sober analysis."
The chairman said that especially in the heat of battle, leaders must find the time to think, to adjust and to improve the situation.
"After more than four decades in uniform, in peace and in war, it's been my experience that people are guided best not by their instincts, but by their reasoning; that rulers are most effective not when they rule passionately, but when they decide dispassionately," he said.
"And so in these dangerous, difficult and immensely challenging times, when our young troops fight two wars overseas, while their loved ones back home fight to keep their families together, when everything from the economy to the environment instills fear and uncertainty, let us exercise our own free choice," Mullen said. "Let us lead rationally and calmly. Let us take the time to ask ourselves, 'What are we doing? What are we not doing? And how can we make up the difference?'
"We may not always like the answers," the chairman said. "I know I seldom do. But we can always learn from having posed the questions."
Mullen offered the following prayer:
"Father in heaven, we gather today to ask your blessing over the lives and decisions of those who lead us around the world.
"Theirs is a mighty task and a noble calling. For upon their shoulders rest the hopes and dreams of billions of people -- not only of this generation, but of future generations who know us not. May you guide them in that pursuit, oh Lord.
"Give them the faith to seek your guidance, the wisdom to make the right decisions and the character to see those decisions through. Help them choose love over hate, courage over fear, principle over expediency. Let them always seek concord and peace, and to remember that the best leader is a good and humble servant.
"Encourage them, Father, to seek your counsel as Solomon himself did in 1 Kings, Chapter 3, saying to you, 'But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties, so give me a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.'
"May you bless us all, Lord – your children – and give our leaders that same discerning heart. Help us always to distinguish between right and wrong and to serve others before ourselves. This we pray in thy name, Amen."