By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
June 24, 2010 - Today's generation of military members, veterans and their families is making an impact on American society that could be felt for generations to come, the nation's top military officer said here today.
Speaking to a group of political staffers, defense industry officials and reporters at The Hill newspaper's annual Tribute to the Troops breakfast this morning, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed the need to take care of veterans.
Their desire to serve the nation and make a difference in their communities is unmatched by any other generation in American history, he said, and the nation would be wise to meet the needs of veterans in their communities and take advantage of the qualities veterans offer.
"I've been so struck in these wars by the extraordinary service of the men and women who wear the uniform [and] their families to a degree and a level that I've just never seen before," Mullen said. He cited the "extraordinary propensity to serve" today's generation of troops and veterans exude.
"It's my belief [veterans] will continue to contribute to our society in ways we can't imagine, and a lot of it is certainly based on what they've learned since they've been in the military," he added.
The admiral discussed initiatives the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are spearheading in communities across the country. Mullen is spearheading a year-long effort to help communities realize the potential of veterans and how to integrate them into their societies. The future of the country depends on reaching out to veterans and involving them in their communities, he said.
"It should never be about veterans returning and seeing them as a burden," Mullen said. "It should be about veterans returning and seeing them with great potential to serve in the future and make a huge difference."
Such national initiatives also are ongoing with the Post 9/11 GI Bill and efforts to end homelessness among veterans. Along with their potential, Mullen said, the needs of veterans are too great to ignore.
"What hasn't changed over the course of these wars is [veterans'] dreams," he said. "They still want to raise a family, they want an education, they want two incomes, [and] they'd like to own a piece of the rock."
But while people at all levels of society want to help veterans, there's an inability to connect those needs with those who want to help, Mullen said. Building such relationships is more difficult than many may realize, he added.
Organizations throughout the country express their desire to help, but rather than focus on what they do best -- whether it's assisting homeless veterans, helping veterans market their skills to the civilian work force or helping them understand benefits they've earned to buy a home, some veteran outreach groups are burdened with raising resources, he said.
Mullen explained that he'd much rather help to connect such organizations with other groups for resources, he said. But it's a work in progress, he added.
The chairman said he is encouraged by the support the American people have shown today's servicemembers.
"As I travel throughout the country, I'm really uplifted by the American people who are so supportive of our men and women and who are looking for other ways to improve, increase and make an impact on their lives in terms of support because of their sacrifice," Mullen said. "These [troops and veterans] are the treasured individuals returning to your communities and can make such a difference."
America's future is in great hands with today's veterans leading tomorrow's communities, the chairman said.
"I think our future will be absolutely superb in many, many, many ways, simply because we have the best people we've ever had," Mullen told the group. "We need to make sure we not just recognize that they are the treasure, [but] that we protect, invest in, depend on them for the future. If we get that right, [the future] will be just fine, no matter what happens in the world. If we don't, it will dramatically increase the challenges."