PETTY OFFICER ANDREW KRAUSS: (In progress) – Petty Officer Andrew Krauss, and welcome to this special Pentagon Channel presentation, “Ask the Chairman: A Virtual Town Hall.” Over the last few weeks, we’ve been collecting video questions on YouTube for Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
We’ve also pulled questions from the chairman’s Facebook and Twitter pages. These questions come from around the world and cover a wide range of topics. We did shorten some of the submissions for time, but the content is unedited. Joining us now to answer these questions in his first-ever virtual town hall is Adm. Mullen. Sir, thank you for joining us.
ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: It’s great to be with you, Petty Officer Krauss. I actually look forward to this – to be able to answer questions from around the world. And it’s an opportunity to connect in a way that I haven’t had before, so I’m excited about it.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: All right, sir. Let’s get started. Our first question comes from an Army captain with two Iraq tours under his belt. And he’s got a question about applying lessons from Iraq to the strategy in Afghanistan.
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Q: Hello, sir. My name is Captain Michael DeCicco (sp), United States Army. And my question is this: Having served in Iraq two times, I see that we have developed a good model for nation-building that has turned a country into a sovereign nation that is now ready to stand on its own. Are you applying that, or do you plan to apply that same model strategy in Afghanistan? Thank you very much.
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ADM. MULLEN: Well, hi, Michael. Thank you, first of all, for your service and for the difference that you’ve made with your two tours in Iraq. And you really have made a difference, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons based on what’s happened over there, and principally, they’re focused on counterinsurgency.
But as we shift our main effort from Iraq to Afghanistan, which we’re doing right now, we have to be careful about the lessons that we apply. Clearly, the counterinsurgency lessons do apply. We need to be in Afghanistan in what I call the clear, hold and build. We have many of the same kind of requirements from our people – that we need to learn the culture, understand the culture.
But there are some differences early in terms of our campaign in Afghanistan, and we need very much to focus on the people. Gen. McChrystal, who’s the new leader there, has really made that his top priority – security for the people and to ensure that things that we’ve learned in Iraq, like civilian casualties – we just can’t sustain a campaign successfully if we keep killing the local civilians. We certainly learned that in Iraq and it applies very much in Afghanistan.
There’s also clear requirements in terms of the civilian requirements. We have to work with our civilian counterparts from our State Department and other agencies from our country, as well as countries around the world. We also have to be patient, get to know the people. It’s going to take some time.
And Afghanistan is different from Iraq. It’s a different kind of terrain; it’s a different culture; there are many more tribes and it borders a country, Pakistan, which is also the focus of our main effort there as well in terms of getting at al-Qaida, which really is our mission there. So in ways, there are similarities and there are other things that we must adjust, given the requirements in Afghanistan.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: Sir, what would you say our current situation is like in the Middle East?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, it’s clearly getting better in Iraq. We are on a plan right now to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. We started fairly significant drawdown in Iraq after their elections in January, coming down from about 120,000 to roughly 35 to 50,000 by August of next year. So literally, it’s less than a year away. I talk about the challenges in Afghanistan as we really move our main focus there in Afghanistan.
It is a real challenge and it’s going to take some time. It’s going to take resources that we’re applying that we haven’t had before. President Obama has laid out a strategy that’s the first comprehensive strategy we’ve had there. But there are other challenges in the Middle East. There’s challenges with Iran; there’s challenges with the two-state solution with the Palestinians and the Israelis; there’s challenges with Syria.
So it continues to be the area I focus most on in terms of my priorities, and one that I think, from the military perspective, we’ve got to continue to try to address and assist in stabilizing what is now a very dangerous part of the world.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: Okay, sir. Let’s move on. The next question comes from a soldier in Fort Bliss, Texas, and it has to do with the homeowner’s assistance program.
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Q: Hello, sir. I’m Spc. Adam Ross with the 16th Mobile Public Affairs detachment on Fort Bliss, Texas. My question concerns the Department of Defense’s homeowner’s assistance program. The program was announced in May of this year, but its rules have yet to be published in the Federal Register and as such, no such application has been processed. This delay has affected thousands of military families, including my own. When can we expect this program to get started?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, first of all, again, thanks for your service and it’s a great question. The act was passed to try to assist those who are obviously in a position to try to buy a house and look for ways to also defer or make up for some losses in a house if you’re going to sell it. And in fact, it is law, but when you have law like this, what happens is the Office of Management and Budget and the affected agency – and in this case, it’s the Department of Defense – have to work out the details of this.
So as you talk about the Federal Register requirement, it will be put in the Register as soon as we work out these details. And I regret that it has been delayed, but it is an example of what Congress – and by way of Congress, the American people – have approved to recognize your service and the challenges for you, your family, and the hundreds of thousands of families that are out there in what is a such a critical area for all of us.
So I’d ask you to be patient. We’re trying to work our way through that, and hopefully in the next, certainly, few weeks to months, we’ll have it in the Federal Register and you’ll be able to take advantage of it.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: I’d like to move to a question posted on your Facebook page, and this one has to do with your military heroes. Naomi asks, “You mentioned in your speeches that Adm. Chester Nimitz is one of your heroes. How does he inspire you, and do you look to historic heroes like Horatio Nelson and John Paul Jones for insight and learning?”
ADM. MULLEN: I’m not sure which speech was the one I mentioned Nimitz in. Certainly, he is one of my heroes. But when I think of naval officers of that time, the individual that I really focus on is Adm. Raymond Spruance. And Spruance was known as “the quiet warrior,” yet he was incredibly capable and, in fact, was the inspiration and the leadership in the Battle of Midway, which really, many believe, turned the war around in the Pacific, and in doing that, certainly had an impact on both theaters – the totality of the wars we were in back then.
It was how he treated his people; it was how he thought and planned and in terms of, being able to, from a leadership standpoint, integrate across different requirements. I mean, he was a black-shoe like me and yet, he was really responsible for what was one of the greatest air battles – air-sea battles in our history. So I think about the example he set and the career he led and, in that regard, he’s very inspirational to me.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: Well, sir, now you, actually, hold a very, very high position in our military. And you know, years down the road, people are going to look at Adm. Mike Mullen. How do you hope people look at you?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think it’s – more than anything else, it’s just by example. One of the reasons I’ve stayed in the military, stayed in the Navy is because people have meant so much to me, literally from the first day I went to Annapolis a long time ago, back in 1964 – great people and great people who are really making a difference. So my focus has always been on people at every stage throughout my career – your career paths, your hopes, your dreams, you in the military as well as your families.
And that has brought me quite surprisingly to me, to this position where, I believe as I always have, people are our top priority, they’re our most valuable resource and the most important part of what we need and who we need to invest in when we have huge challenges right now. We’ve got a force that’s been deployed much differently than we thought a few years ago, and much more frequently. It’s a stressed force, and our ground forces in particular.
We’ve got families who have stepped up more than anytime during my career to make sure that they supported their men and women in uniform. That allows those in uniform to be successful in the missions that we’re challenged with – multiple deployments. We’ve got children who are sacrificing greatly. We’ve got wounded. We’ve got families of the fallen who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice.
And so it is, in a way, one of the ways I look at this, is focusing on people my whole life has put my in a position to be able to do that in this job so we make sure we get it right, to take care of them, to take care of the veterans who have sacrificed so much and their families, as well as focus on the missions that we’re in and the missions in the future.
I get asked frequently about, what’s the – as we look at the future, our quadrennial defense review, which is a review every four or five years to look at the future – what’s the most important part about that? And my answer is focus on our people, invest in our people and continue to do that. And I feel very fortunate and honored to continue to serve with the best people I’ve ever been around in my life.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: All right, sir. Let’s get back to the videos. This one is from an active-duty servicemember in Germany and he has a question about the swine flu vaccination.
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Q: Hello, Adm. Mullen. My name is Staff Sgt. Rob Josliak (ph) and I’m stationed in Germany. My question is pertaining to the swine flu vaccination. There’s a lot of talk that it will be out and ready by the time the regular flu vaccination coming out this fall. My question is, do you foresee it being mandatory for all military members, if not this fall, some time in the future? Thank you very much.
(End video clip.)
ADM. MULLEN: Well, thanks, Sergeant, again, and thanks for all you do. And I guess I do see it as a requirement and my expectation is that it will be both available and starting to be given here in about a month. So mandatory for those who are in uniform and it will also be made available for military dependents who want to get the swine flu vaccination. And it’s – there’s been an awful lot of effort focused on this.
It’s still early, obviously, in the flu season. But there are an awful lot of indicators this year that this will be a very intense flu season and longer than other flu seasons. So it is important that everybody gets this, and certainly military dependents that volunteer to get it as well will also be important.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: And I know you just said that it’s early in its stages with the swine flu, but is this something that the military or military leaders are really worried about in the future?
ADM. MULLEN: It’s the kind of thing that actually, when you look at future warfare, you know, one of the concerns, clearly, when you look at biological and chemical and the kinds of threats that we could face, certainly the challenges that we have in that regard is to be prepared for that, to train for that.
We’ve got to keep the readiness of our forces very high. So if we were just to use swine flu, if we had a significant breakout in the military, it could really affect our readiness. I’m particularly concerned in confined spaces like ships or submarines, as well as making sure that our families are protected.
So while it is just flu, going through all we’ve been through to get ready for this and the outbreak that we had earlier this year has helped us train and really focus, in a way, to make sure we can take care of our people and also make sure we’re as ready as we can possibly be for whatever might happen.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: All right, well, this next question was submitted to the joint staff via Twitter. Matt Milliken (sp) asked, “How do you intend to defeat an enemy whose center of gravity is in Pakistan, similar to the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong center of gravity not being in Hanoi?”
ADM. MULLEN: I think it’s a very important question. And the president’s strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan – and to remind, this is a regional approach; it’s not one country or another. Clearly, early in this war in Afghanistan, al-Qaida resided in Afghanistan. Essentially, it was a safe haven. They subsequently – we ran them out; they’ve moved to Pakistan and their leadership resides there.
They still are an incredibly dangerous threat. They still plan to try to take us out – kill as many Americans and Western citizens as possible. They’re very focused on that. And so the combined approach of working with both Pakistan and in our strategy in Afghanistan is what really gets at this in the long run.
They’re also – al-Qaida, now, is very much tighter with the Taliban. And the Taliban clearly have a goal in Afghanistan – to retake the country over – and then, clearly, could provide a safe haven. So it’s really focus on them, in terms of a little longer term, basically – and we have to have a good, strong relationship with Pakistan, which we’re working on. I’ve taken 13 trips to Pakistan since a year ago February, to establish and nurture a relationship particularly with their military.
And when I’m in that part of the world in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, essentially the question becomes, are you staying this time? Because you left us before. And it’s a great question. The citizens there honestly don’t know the answer to that. And while it’s one thing for me to be able to say yes, I’m going to stay, it’s really going to be a question answered in time, because I believe a lot more in communicating through our actions than through our words. And it’s going to take time for them to believe we are going to stay, not as an occupying force, but really as a partner – a long-term partner in a really critical part of the world.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: Well, sir, do you see countries – not just, say, Pakistan, but maybe, like, Iran – becoming more friendly or at least, helping in the war on terror in the future?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, it’s hard to say. I mean, Iran, right now, is very destabilizing in a critical part of the world. They sponsor terrorism and they are very focused on supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza. They’ve made it very, very challenging for us, obviously, in Iraq. And to a certain degree – not as extensive as in Iraq – they’re doing some of the same kinds of things in Afghanistan.
So I’m encouraged by President Obama’s outreach; I would hope that it would work. At the same time, I’m realistic enough to know that, I think, instantaneous change is going to be very difficult. We haven’t had a relationship with Iran for over 30 years, and it’s going to take a while to develop one. We see lots of things differently. I would hope that this outreach and the connection – not just by the United States but also the international community – can get Iran into a position where they’re actually a constructive contributor as opposed to a country that constantly destabilizes that part of the world.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: Okay, sir. This will be our final question. This next YouTube video comes from the faculty at Arizona State University, and is one of several science-related questions on what products the academic world can provide to help the military in its current efforts overseas.
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Q: Good afternoon, Adm. Mullen. And greetings from the Arizona State University. We represent the Consortium for Strategic Communication, an interdisciplinary group of scholars working in the field of communication, media studies, political science, and religious studies in order to achieve a deeper understanding of the cultures of the Middle East, Southeast Asia and North Africa, with special attention to those cultural factors that spread violent extremism into those regions.
Our question for you, Admiral, is this. How can we, as concerned academics with expertise in cultural understanding, narrative analysis, media studies and communication extend our basic research into practical ways capable of helping policy development, decision makers and operators from the flag level to the frontline troops, from infantry platoons to civil affairs teams? Are there specific problems, processes or training programs that you would like to see in these areas? Thank you.
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ADM. MULLEN: Well, I really appreciate the work that you’re doing. I mean, one of the things that we’ve learned in these two wars is that we have a long way to go to understand the cultures that are within the areas that you spoke of, and clearly very specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that cultural learning is critical to us, and it’s really, I think, mainstream to whether or not we can succeed.
When I think about that, I immediately think about requirements we have for languages. I, not very long ago, visited our Defense Language Institute out in Monterrey, California, where we have a couple of thousand Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, who are learning languages. And along with that, they are certainly immersing themselves to a great degree in their culture. And I’m also encouraged because they’re young. And so it’s an investment now in their early 20s that they’ll carry with them over decades, which I think is very important.
When you speak of the kinds of things that you might be able to do, one of the things I’d obviously need to know is a little bit more about what you do, but I applaud the effort. And as an educational institute, we have educational and training institutions all over the military. So the question for me would be how I might best be able to connect with you in that regard with where you are in terms of what you’re learning and how I could then put that into curriculums and connect you with both instructors and men and women in uniform who could use that.
It’s vital. You use the term “strategic communication.” It’s not my favorite term because oftentimes it’s a term people don’t understand. But the communication piece, the cultural adaptation piece, the listening; in terms of what other peoples are saying from around the world, the seeing the challenges through other peoples’ eyes – absolutely vital. And I think you could bring a lot with respect to that.
And the military’s got a great technology base, so we ought to be able to figure out how we could work together to accelerate this, and what I think is going to be a growing requirement around the world for the United States military, and actually, I think, for the United States of America. But thanks for the question.
PETTY OFFICER KRAUSS: Well, sir, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you very much for joining us. It was my pleasure to be here. And thank “you” for joining us on this first ever virtual town hall. This has been a Pentagon Channel special presentation. We’ll see you next time.