By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MOSUL, Iraq, Aug. 1, 2011 – Navy Adm. Mike Mullen today got a taste of the ground truth that American service members live every day in this northern Iraqi city.
It was more than 125 degrees outside when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to about 400 service members at the Marez gym here. He thanked them for their service, and said America was “blessed” to have them.
Mosul was a concern when he took office in 2007, the chairman noted. “Mosul was in really, really tough shape,” he said. “The violence was high, and it was al-Qaida Central.”
The change in the city is striking, Mullen said, and he thanked the service members for what they do day in and day out to give the Iraqis the chance for a democratic and free future.
The chairman also spoke to the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Advise and Assist Brigade about change. “There are opportunities in change, but change can also be very challenging,” he said.
The service members have made changes in Mosul, the chairman added, but change also is going to be felt in the U.S. military writ large. “Change has become a way of life for us across the board,” he said.
Mullen told the troops that a deal had been struck in the debt-ceiling debate, but that the message of the debate will have far-reaching effects for the military, repeating an opinion he frequently has expressed.
“I believe that debt is the biggest threat to our national security,” he said. “We cannot keep increasing our debt and expect the Pentagon … to get the resources we need.”
While the nation will get through these debt problems, Mullen said, the money for national defense is not an unlimited pot. “There will be tough decisions to make,” he added. “It is the first time we have been through a cycle like this when we have two wars, an all-volunteer force, the numbers of deployments and the challenges we have to deal with this.”
Retention and recruiting are high, but they will be constrained, he said. The services must keep the best people, he told the service members. He urged them to diversify their experience and get more education, because the services need highly qualified, highly educated personnel to weather this cycle.
Today’s force is the most combat-experienced force in American history, with many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. “One of the questions is ‘How do we sustain this over time?” he said.
Leadership will see the military through a lot of these problems, the chairman said, adding that he wants leaders at all levels to step forward.
“Anybody who is out there … [in the] front, middle or back can make a difference,” he said. “You’ve seen that in combat, [and] you’ve seen it in peace.”
Part of leadership at all levels is taking care of each other, the chairman said. All, he added, must work to eliminate sexual assaults in the military and to help service members contemplating suicide, and all have to work to eliminate any stigma associated with seeking help for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
Mullen told the noncommissioned officers in the audience that they had succeeded because someone made a difference in their lives. “I ask that you do the same,” he said. “Figure it out. Pay it back that way.
“Prepare them,” he continued. “Give them opportunities for leadership, give them opportunities for responsibility, [and] give them opportunities for education and training.”