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By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2011 – America can ill afford to lose its military superiority, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said today, his last day as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Speaking to the audience gathered at Virginia’s Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to watch him transfer the chairmanship to Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Mullen said decisions made in the coming months will determine what kind of military the nation will have during the next 20 to 30 years.
The admiral noted the U.S. military forces have fought for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now face “looming threats” posed by Iran and North Korea, challenges in cyberspace and China’s growing military capabilities.
“We have become the best counterinsurgency force in the world, but we have done so at the expense of critical conventional capabilities we necessarily let lapse,” Mullen said. “We have become the most expeditionary force in our history, but in the process sacrificed some of the basics of garrison leadership and continuity that preserve the health of our all-volunteer force.”
Difficult budget decisions are ahead, the admiral acknowledged.
“Cuts in defense spending are fair game. We should do our part,” Mullen said. “But cut too deeply, and we will burn the very blanket of protection we have been charged to provide our fellow citizens. Cut too deeply now, and we will harm, perhaps irreparably, the industrial base from which we procure the materials of war.”
Mullen said as the senior military advisor to the president and the secretary of defense, he has been fortunate in those he has served.
Addressing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, he said, “Our time together has been short in days, but long on substance. I consider myself fortunate to have had this opportunity to … learn from you, as I did under Secretary [Robert M.] Gates – another extraordinary man I consider a good friend and a mentor.”
Mullen added, “Thank you for your leadership, sir, and for the trust you placed in me.”
The chairman then addressed the American public, as he has in scores of visits to colleges, town halls and other venues across the nation during his “Conversation With the Country” travels.
“The men and women of your armed forces are the best we have ever known,” Mullen said. “They believe in what they are doing. All I ask is that you continue to believe in them.”
He urged Americans to reach out to service members, veterans and their families -- “to wash over them in what I call this ‘sea of goodwill’ that I know exists in the country.”
War has changed America’s service members forever, but it has not changed their dreams, and their fellow citizens can help make those dreams come true, Mullen said.
“Hire them. Help them buy a home. Get them started on the path to an education,” he said. “Give them a chance. That’s all they want.”
America and its citizens are struggling amid a global economic downturn, he acknowledged, and the wars young men and women in uniform are fighting aren’t “exactly foremost on everyone’s minds.”
But they are foremost in the minds of service members in the fight, the admiral said.
“We talk about the resilience of our troops and their families as if it is something apart from the rest of society,” he said. “It isn’t, or at least it shouldn’t be.”
America’s troops learned to be brave and steadfast in their homes, schools and communities, the chairman said.
“Welcome them back to those places, not only with bands and bunting or yellow ribbons, but with the solemn recognition that they have done your bidding, they have represented you well, they have carried the best of you and of this country into battle,” he urged.
Those troops have done things and seen things and bear things in their souls that civilians cannot know, the chairman said.
“Help them through their trials, be tolerant of them and each other,” Mullen said. “Give them a chance, and together we will prove the greatness that is America.”