Saturday, June 7, 2008

Chairman of Joint Chiefs Stresses to New Officers the Wisdom of Enlisted Soldiers

Chairman of Joint Chiefs Stresses to New Officers the Wisdom of Enlisted Soldiers

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 8, 2008; Page A09

The nation's top military official yesterday urged graduating U.S. officers at the Army War College to listen to the combat-tempered soldiers below them, saying it is critical to keep young veterans in the force and tap their understanding of today's unconventional wars.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed that junior officers and enlisted soldiers "are wise beyond their years," adding that "war has a way of doing that." Such soldiers know "a few new things about how to wage irregular warfare in this new century," and military leaders "would be foolish to toss that knowledge aside," Mullen said in a commencement address to more than 300 colonels and lieutenant colonels graduating from U.S. Army War College at Carlisle, Pa.

Mullen's remarks reflected growing concern among senior Pentagon leaders over the retention of the Army's captains and other junior leaders, who are increasingly weary from repeated and lengthy war zone rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan and in some cases alienated from the generals who lack their first-hand experience.

Fresh thinking is vital to reforming military institutions that are "mired in peacetime and must fundamentally change," Mullen said. Addressing graduates at the college, which offers master's degrees in strategic studies to military officers considered most promising for promotion, Mullen asked who "will have the strength and the courage to put forth the ideas that truly change the way we act as an institution?"

Such change must not only harness the lessons from today's counterinsurgencies but also position the U.S. military for a wide range of possible future conflicts, including large-scale conventional combat, he said. "We still face very real threats from regional powers who possess robust conventional and, in some cases, nuclear capabilities," Mullen said, warning that "the specter of major conflict may have diminished, but it has not yet disappeared."

Voicing a concern echoed by chiefs of the Army, Marine Corps and other services, Mullen highlighted the need to restore conventional capabilities that have atrophied as a result of the overwhelming focus on Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There are young Marines who have never deployed aboard a Navy ship and Army officers who have not been able to focus on their mission of providing artillery fire support," he said.

The Navy, for its part, has devoted thousands of soldiers to land jobs and revived riverine units with the advice of Vietnam war veterans -- but today has a fleet of 280 ships at sea, "far fewer than it may need to provide the credible maritime presence" required by regional U.S. commanders, Mullen said.

The Air Force, meanwhile, has suffered "a serious decline in nuclear mission focus and performance, a decline which erodes our nation's ability to effectively deter and to defeat potential major adversaries," he said, referring to evidence in a classified Pentagon investigation of the Air Force's failure to safeguard U.S. nuclear weapons materials. The investigation led Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last week to remove Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley.

Commenting on that decision, in which he played a role, Mullen said: "I respect and admire the decisions by Secretary Wynne and General Moseley to accept responsibility and accountability for this decline. That should serve a lesson to us all about leadership, but so too should it serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of complacency."

Since he took office last fall, Mullen has made a priority of reaching out to Army personnel of all ranks to better address strains in the nation's main ground force, and yesterday he also raised the health of the all-volunteer force and, particularly, the wounded "who bear the seen and unseen scars of war."

"Too many of them find themselves adrift in paperwork and processes designed for a peacetime force -- again, out of balance for the wartime reality we face. Too many of them suffer in silence. We must take better care of them, and each other," he said.


They have always said the NCO's are the backbone of the military amd combat tested veterans have knowledge and experience that can NOT be taught in classrooms.

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