People 'First and Foremost' as Military Shifts Focus
(February 12, 2009)
|FORT DRUM, N.Y., Feb. 9, 2009 – As the
military begins to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan,
it can't lose focus on supporting troops and their families,
most importantly by increasing the “dwell time” at home
stations between deployments, the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff said here today.|
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told 10th Mountain Division soldiers
who returned from Iraq in November, others training for a
2010 deployment, and wives of deployed troops serving in
Iraq and Afghanistan that they're the backbone of the
"Thanks for what you do, and your service to your country at
this critical time," Mullen said at a town hall meeting of
junior soldiers grades E-4 and below. "[You are] the best we
have ever had, and [I am] exceptionally grateful for your
service to our nation.
"You serve a larger calling than just yourself, as does your
family," he said. "We couldn't do it without you, and we
couldn't do it without the family support that has been
In a separate session with family readiness group
representatives, Mullen and his wife, Deborah, extended
thanks to family members whose loved ones have deployed two,
three, even five times since 9/11.
"I recognize that we have asked extraordinary things and
have seen extraordinary results," he said. "I don't take
that for granted."
As the military looks to the future -- one likely to see
greater focus on Afghanistan and possibly tightened budgets
-- Mullen said it can't lose sight of the basics of taking
care of people. "It is first and foremost," he told the
family group. "I don't care what we buy. At the core of our
future success is our people."
A top priority, he said, is to increase dwell time between
deployments. The 10th Mountain Division soldiers currently
have as little as 12 months at home between deployments.
Much of that "home time" actually is spent away from home,
training for the next deployment.
Mullen said he wants to see dwell time extended as quickly
as possible, and to make as much of it as possible time
actually spent at home.
"I am hopeful that in about 12 to 24 months, we can take
some of the pressure off with increased dwell time at home,"
he said. "We recognize the need for more time at home. I'm
focused on it, the secretary of defense is focused on it,
and so is the president. He has told me that personally."
The chairman said he'd also like to see the highly unpopular
"Stop Loss" program – which allows the Army to keep soldiers
in critical specialties beyond their enlistment contracts --
end as quickly as possible. "If I could do it, I would stop
it tonight," he told a spouse. But as the Army increases its
end strength and trains up those forces so they are
deployable, he conceded, it's more likely going to take 24
to 36 months before the program can be lifted.
Mullen pointed to rising suicide rates and the incidence of
post-traumatic stress disorder as signs of the heavy stress
troops are under. He urged them to look out for each other
and help to de-stigmatize getting help when it's needed.
Looking ahead, Mullen said, it's highly likely the military
will face budget cuts. That needs to be done by cutting
programs "where costs have spun out of control" so funds
remain on the war effort and taking care of the troops
fighting it and their families, he said.
But the United States must ensure deploying troops have the
equipment, training and other support required to succeed,
the chairman said. "We cannot send young men and women off
to war and not give them the resources that they need," he
told the soldiers.
"If have to make some hard choices, we'll do that," he said.
"But most of all, we need to get it right for our people and
fund the wars we are in."
That includes protecting not only military pay and bonuses,
but also medical care, family programs, housing and other
allowances. These help ensure that "when you make a decision
about your future, you're in a world-class outfit, and you
will make a decision to stay if that's right for you,"
Today's troops represent the future of the force, he said.
Mullen told the soldiers and their families he's focused on
"making sure that the combat-hardened force we have -- after
multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and the best we
have ever seen -- is in fact the guarantor of a successful
military in the future."
Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Mangum, the division's rear-echelon
commander, called Mullen's visit a great shot in the arm for
the 9,000 soldiers currently at Fort Drum, as well as about
9,000 deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The most important thing for them is that he knows they're
carrying a heavy load and appreciates it," Mangum said.
"Hearing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say thank
you means a lot."
American Forces Press Service
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