ADM and Deborah Mullen (DOD)
Friday is an important day for the U.S. military and the country, because the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will change hands, passing from Admiral Mike Mullen to General Martin Dempsey. Outside of the beltway, few people will notice. There will be the obligatory news articles announcing the event, but many in America will not even know it happened.
And I suspect Mike Mullen is fine with that.
I never worked for Admiral Mullen, but I knew him by reputation. The word on the street was that he was a no nonsense straight talker who meant what he said. When he took the helm as CNO in 2005 he made it clear that the word from the street was right on. Almost immediately he made changes within the Navy infrastructure, moving money and people to align with his priorities. No one doubted who was in charge.
He took over as Chairman in 2007 as the surge reached full force in Iraq. Under his leadership the war was won. He told the American Forces Press Service that during a recent nighttime flight over Baghdad, “It looked like a sea of lights, like you were in Las Vegas,” he said. “They’d never seen traffic on the streets of Baghdad at night, and it was jammed.”
ADM Mullen in Baghdad – 2008 (DOD)
He will be remembered as favoring repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Most of us remember his heartfelt remark, “We have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Mullen said. “For me, personally, it comes down to integrity: Theirs as an individual, ours as an institution.” That was a gutsy statement from the senior military member in the country, but no one doubted his sincerity when he said it.
What won’t be said about him is his tireless concern for those who serve – and have served – in the military. I saw it first hand when he and his wife Deborah visited the state of Idaho a couple of months ago. He was here for about 24 hours and talked to a couple of thousand people at six different venues.
ADM Mullen at the Boise VA Medical Center (DOD)
He spoke with the Governor, the National Guard, Mayors, businessmen, veterans, college students, families of the deployed, Gold Star families, and even threw in an enlistment ceremony while he was here. A sitting Chairman of the JCS had never visited the state before, but Admiral Mullen came, insisting that any and all questions were fair game. At every presentation his theme was consistent – take care of our returning troops, their families, the families of the fallen, and our veterans. His schedule was intense, but not once did I see signs of fatigue.
As momentous as his visit was to Idaho, we were no different than the scores – maybe hundreds – of places around the country that hosted him during his tenure. Such an initiative is rare for a Chairman, but Admiral Mullen ignored his naysayers and traveled the country to emphasize his message.
What is clear is that he cared. He knew that his voice would have an impact so he went. We didn’t know it at the time of his visit to Idaho, but the mission to get Bin Laden was about to take place. The pressures inherent in the mission must have weighed heavily on him, but he came nonetheless because the troops and their families needed his support.
He has traveled the globe to visit military forces where they work, to see first-hand the conditions under which they operate, and to hear their concerns. He said that the servicemen and women only wish for one thing: that they are not forgotten.
At Camp Marmal, Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan (DOD)
Just recently, he has come under fire for comments he made about Pakistan and its relationship with the Haqqani network, a violent insurgent group that has led attacks on Americans in Afghanistan. When asked to clarify or amend his statement, he replied that he stood by, “…every word of his testimony.” A no nonsense straight talker who means what he says – to the very end.
As he fades from the public eye, Admiral Mullen deserves a well-earned rest after four decades of dedicated service to his country. We wish him fair winds and following seas.
“I leave humbled now by the performance and the resilience of men and women in uniform and their families, who did not shrink from duty when duty sent them into harm’s way.”
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Washington, D.C., Sept. 22, 2011