by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — There was no topic off limits for Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he spoke to military personnel here May 26.
The top servicemember spoke of change, suicide, social media, the transition out of Iraq and long-term plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He even joked, “Isn’t anyone going to address the elephant in the room?”
The elephant being his recent, and highly publicized, support for the elimination of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prevents openly gay people from serving in the military.
Admiral Mullen was in Colorado Springs to give the commencement speech at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation and made a stop at Peterson AFB where military and civilian personnel filled the base auditorium to capacity to hear his words and ask their questions for an hour. Admiral Mullen, who traverses the country and the world, said this is his third trip to Colorado in the last month, signaling its importance in missile warning, missile defense, space control and cyber operations.
“Change is moving at an extraordinary pace in things like cyber and space, and we don’t even know how fast,” he said. “What you are doing here is vital, in terms of early efforts and where we need to go.”
Admiral Mullen, who has recently been working on strategic arms talks with Russia, said he feels cyberspace is the area that countries must address in the near future.
“It is because there are no boundaries,” he said. “We may have to figure out how to establish rules and treaties on how we are going to conduct ourselves.”
Admiral Mullen has been the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since Oct. 1, 2007. The Los Angeles native graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968. And while he joked about his age, he is hip to the latest social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, he said.
“Young ones tell me e-mail is passé,” he said. “(Social media) is about, how I communicate with my troops. How do I know what’s going on.”
As for the recent changes in the Department of Defense policy that allows access to social networking sites from government computers, Admiral Mullen said no one can be laissez faire with state secrets.
“We are in the national security business,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we guard that while we move ahead in meeting some of these other challenges.”
In April, Time Magazine named Admiral Mullen among the people who most affect the world and called his tenure, “revolutionary in both substance and style.” Admiral Mullen was praised for traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan nearly 20 times in the past year. On his visits, he not only meets top civilian leaders but also farmers in an effort to rebuild trust. When meeting with Pakistan, or any country, he said Americans have a tendency to apply solutions from the American perspective. It doesn’t work, he said.
“It’s not going to work the American way in these countries,” he said. “What we need to do is see their problems through their eyes and then figure out how we might be able to support them.”
He spent much time discussing the transition out of Iraq and long-term plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, he said those are not the full scope of the military operations.
“Look at what has happened on the Korean peninsula, look at what is going on in the (Gulf of Mexico), not too long ago 20,000 of us went to Haiti,” he said. “The opportunities continue to abound. Things will continue to change and we are going to have to continue to adjust. We cannot be a static organization, not at my level and not at your level.”
Still, Admiral Mullen talked about an opportunity in the coming year to reset and create longer dwell times at home for military. The way he counts the effects of multiple deployments is by the life of a 10-year-old child in 2001. That child has just sent his mom or dad off to a fourth or fifth deployment, and each time the deployment has been longer, he said. The admiral’s goal is for military personnel to be home two years for every one year of deployment.
“That is a significant change from what we’ve been doing the last year,” he said.
In his three years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he has stressed the importance of troops.
“We can talk about equipment and what we are buying,” he said. “But the health of our military is tied directly to you, military and civilians, who do this every single day.”
He thanked the military personnel for their service and “ordered” them to go home and thank their families too. He said he was concerned about stress on the families more than ever because military personnel have been at war for the last two decades.
“I can very easily say that this is the very best military this nation has ever seen and, I believe, the best military this world has seen,” he said.
About that elephant, Admiral Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February that it’s time to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said. In the meantime, a new online inbox enables servicemembers and their families to comment anonymously about the impact of a possible repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law at www.defense.gov/dadt. The survey results, he said, will help him understand the potential impact on the military force if it is changed.
“We are well into the review,” he said. “But, by no means is it over.”