Joint Chiefs Chairman Visits With Soldiers, Airmen

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Fayetteville (NC) Observer
April 1, 2008 By Laura Arenschield, Staff writer
The top military adviser to the president told a group of Fort Bragg soldiers and Pope Air Force Base airmen Monday that shortening deployments from 15 months to 12 months depends on fighting in Iraq, not on any predetermined time limit.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he wants shorter deployments — and longer periods of time at home — but said security in the Middle East is the military’s highest priority.
Mullen’s remarks came during a question-and-answer forum with about 350 soldiers and airmen at Pope Air Force Base’s theater Monday morning. Mullen spent the day touring the two installations and meeting with troops to ask about their concerns.
Junior enlisted troops asked questions about the lengths and frequencies of their deployments, last week’s violence in Iraq and care for wounded service members and veterans.
Mullen told the group he wanted to shorten deployments and give service members twice as much time at home as they spend overseas. The military’s challenge, he said, is balancing the health of its service members with the missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries around the world.
“My goal is to come down from 15months as quickly as we can,” Mullen said. “When that will be, I don’t know.”
Mullen said after the forum that service members soon may be allowed to bring their families on tours to Korea, but said that decision has not been finalized and would take several months to implement.
One soldier asked how Mullen and other top military officials planned to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose militias fought Iraqi security forces for most of last week in Basra and Sadr City.
Mullen said he was encouraged by the Iraqi prime minister’s involvement in securing a cease-fire from al-Sadr.
He said the Iraqis’ way of doing things might be different from how the U.S. would have done them, but added that the U.S. has to “come to grips with” that.
“The long-term goal is to turn security over to the Iraqi police,” Mullen said. “This is their country.”
One soldier who works at Womack Army Medical Center asked Mullen what he thought about the quality of care the military provides service members with traumatic brain injuries.
Mullen said the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are leading research into the effects of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress, but said both agencies could do more. He said the government focuses on mending a service member’s disability, but also should focus on improving his quality of life by helping him find a job and get into college.
“How do we put a young soldier or a young family in the best position they can be in for the rest of their lives?” Mullen asked. “If you have any ideas on that, I’m wide open.”
Mullen planned to meet with senior enlisted service members later Monday and planned to visit Camp Lejeune today.
Tech. Sgt. Angela Harris said she was impressed that Mullen answered the questions service members asked him.
Harris said her husband also is in the Air Force and is on his sixth deployment. She said she would have liked to know when service members can expect frequent deployments to end.
“As of right now, we still don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Sgt. Michael Layao, who has deployed twice in the past four years, said he liked Mullen’s proposal that service members be home twice as long as they are deployed.
“We’re proud to serve our country, we’re proud to serve our families,” he said. “We’re proud to make a difference ... but it wears on us.”