Joint Chiefs of Staff Open to Law Ending "don't ask, don't tell"
Defense Link News
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 3, 2008

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2008 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., that they will join an Army under severe stress, but one that is performing magnificently.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, himself a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., spoke to the cadets yesterday. He told them that they are well-prepared to join the force, and that they must become leaders once they are part of it.

The academy has given the cadets great technical and tactical skills, but the chairman said his highest expectation of the young men and women is they must push themselves to lead.

"One of the reasons I push this so much is in the toughest situations I've seen, when there were no obvious solutions, great leaders made the difference," he said. "Great leaders, some surprisingly so, stepped up."

Mullen told the cadets to treat every one with respect.

"You are joining a military that is more diverse, more representative of our country than any military we've ever had," he said. "There is great strength in that, great benefits. And we are a military that must represent our country."

Many of these cadets will be leading platoons in Afghanistan and Iraq by this time next year, Mullen said, and they will be part of an Army at war, and engaged in growing and changing. Where the United States military is fighting and how it is fighting are only two parts of the whole. The young officers must help build a force that has to be rapid, lethal, agile, flexible and able to evolve against a constantly changing enemy. "And that enemy is going to be out there for decades," Mullen said.

The chairman noted progress made by the surge of troops in Iraq, pointing out that the surge's success was made possible by the hard work and sacrifice of troops on the ground.

"Quite frankly, the success of the surge, is because of the young men and women fighting in the trenches out there – the young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have given their lives to make that surge succeed," he said.

The chairman took questions from the cadets. One asked what the Navy and Air Force is doing to help in the fight against radical extremism. Another asked if the billions of dollars spent on the F-22 Raptor and Joint Strike Fighter – conventional weapons – isn't money wasted in a counterinsurgency war.

"I was in the military at a time when we broke the military," Mullen said. "We had one-year deployments, we had a very unpopular war, we deployed differently in the sense that it was individuals rather than units, it was a draft force rather than an all-volunteer force. But we put enormous pressure on our military and it broke."

Mullen discussed the nature of joint operations, and noted that he served as Chief of Naval Operations prior to becoming chairman. He told the cadets that when he took that job, "I was intent to push as many sailors as I could into Iraq and Afghanistan, and both the Navy and the Air Force have stepped up to that."

There are 6,000 sailors, for example, on the ground in Iraq, and they are joined by thousands of their Air Force colleagues. He also told the cadets that Air Force and Navy special operations forces are contributing quietly, but forcefully to the fight.

The Navy and Air Force also have direct crucial roles to play in supporting combat operations. "You will find that we can't do much without strong logistics support," Mullen said.

"You will find that we can't do much without tactical and strategic lift," he said. "You will find we can't do much medically out there and the miracles which have occurred over the last seven years without Navy and Air Force personnel who have saved so many lives on the battlefields."

Mullen said all members of the armed services will become more "special forces-like" in the future. "That's what's going on right now against this asymmetric foe that we have and we need to continue to adapt," he said.

The chairman said he "lives in the future" and has to ensure America has what it needs to defend itself five, 10, 20 years from now. It isn't a choice of concentrating on counterinsurgency or conventional capabilities. "We've got to be able to do both," he said.

In aviation, the clear U.S. technological advantage is not what it used to be. The country must invest in these state-of-the-art platforms, because the United States has not been particularly good at forecasting where and when it must fight.

He reminded the cadets that when Robert McNamara was being confirmed as defense secretary in 1960, no one mentioned Vietnam. When Dick Cheney was in front of the Senate for his confirmation hearings as defense secretary in 1989, no one mentioned Kuwait. And when Donald Rumsfeld was being grilled in 2001, no one mentioned Afghanistan.

The U.S. military must have world class counterinsurgency personnel and operations, he said, and it must have world class conventional capabilities. The country can't afford to "bet it all on one number."

The chairman called for a debate in the United States about the proper funding of the military. He has suggested 4 percent of gross domestic product might be about right.

With a national election looming, a cadet asked about the "don't ask, don't tell" law and what would happen if someone took office who wants to change it. "It's a law, and we follow it," Mullen said. Should the law change, the military will carry that out too, he said.

"We are a military that is under the control of our civilian elected leaders," he said. "It has served us well since we've been founded. That is a special characteristic of our country and I would never do anything to jeopardize that."

Military leaders must remain apolitical. "It's what the American people expect," he said. "My personal opinion on this – whatever it is – is irrelevant."

The cadets entered West Point in the summer of 2004. The U.S. Army was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers were serving in the far reaches of the Pacific and training emerging democracies in Africa.

"You made a conscious decision to serve. It's an important decision for you individually, but also for our country," he said.

"You are at a point where through your service you are writing history – even here you are writing history. You will look very quickly at the future. That future holds combat for many of you, it holds leadership positions for every one of you and it holds a dedication and a duty and an honor that is incredibly special because of who you are and what we expect of you," he said.

Original Text