All Hands Call Forward Operating Base Ramrod
As Delivered by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , Forward Operating Base Ramrod, Maiwand District, Afghanistan Friday, July 17, 2009
ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Good morning. All right, maybe easier to fall out and just kind of move up here, will you? (Pause.) Get as close as you dare. Come on. (Laughter.) Well, good morning. Actually, I want to just take a couple minutes to say a couple of things. One is, thanks for what you’re doing.
You represent the best of the best in terms of the military that we have and I’ve been in the military for a long time – I won’t tell you how long; that would give away my age – but I’ve seen our military develop over the last four-plus decades, and without any question, you’re the best we’ve ever been and I believe the best military that we’ve ever had or that existed in the world. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thinking decisions that come across my desk and making sure that I’m doing the best I can to understand exactly what you’re doing here and figuring out a way to support that.
So I’m grateful for that, grateful for your service at this time in our history. It’s a big deal that you’ve raised your right hand to serve the country, serve a cause bigger than yourself and make a difference for people around the world, and obviously, particularly here in Afghanistan. How many – let me just kind of quickly count deployments – first deployment? Second? Third? Fourth? Fifth? Fifth? Come here. I won’t give you a medal or anything, but I would like to just say thanks. Who are you?
MR. : Staff Sergeant Cross (sp), sir.
ADM. MULLEN: Okay. And it’s you and others – and actually, what I’m seeing around the Army in particular right now is sort of the heart of the envelope is four deployments and then those that we’re starting to see in very small numbers that are on deployment number five. And so I just can’t say enough how much we appreciate what you’re doing and the difference that you’re making. Thanks.
And I recognize that’s a lot of deployments and as I recall, you’ve come at it, as I was just talking to the tank commander, you’ve come out of Korea into Iraq, went back to the States and now, you’ve shifted percussion (ph), right? So you’ve been on the move, whether you’ve been overseas or you’ve been back home and I know that’s very, very challenging. So again, thanks for all your sacrifice and the difference that you make.
I’d also like to make sure that I express my appreciation for your families and your families’ support because you couldn’t be out here doing what you’re doing without that support. It’s better than it’s ever been. In my career, family support has always been good, but it’s just been absolutely – (inaudible) – we’ve not just put you under a lot of pressure; we’ve put your families under an extraordinary amount of pressure.
And all of us in leadership positions are very focused on trying to make sure we get that right – get it right for your families as well. So hats off to your families. I’d ask you to please – have you got conductivity, really, around here? E-mail’s working? Is it? All the time? Here? Is that a yes, here or no, here or maybe here? Yeah, most of the time. So please, if you think of it, just tell your families that I – that leadership is also focused on them and please tell them that we said thanks.
Secondly, all of us live in a time where things are changing all the time and I don’t think there’s anyplace in our military where that’s more evident than right now. You are part of the big shift from Iraq to Afghanistan in terms of the main effort. And you are in the initial – sort of at the front end of that change. We are resourcing Afghanistan unlike we have before, trying to understand what the requirements are, and again, you lead that effort.
You’ve got new leadership out here, both on the civilian side with the ambassador as well as the military side with General McChrystal. And I would urge you to just pay attention to the words that are used. And the focus now – the strategic focus now, right down to where you are at the tactical level is on the people. We’ve got to secure the people. We cannot succeed here without taking care of the Afghan people first.
And were we – I’m sure we we’re heavily focused on making sure – and I assume you are – that we absolutely eliminate civilian casualties and do that in a way – don’t jeopardize yourself, but think of it in terms of what might be a tactical win in a situation can really hurt the overall effort strategically – it can actually extend the overall effort, which is one of the efforts we’re emphasizing it so much.
So it’s really important in where you’re operating that you kind of think through the steps two, three, four and five – not just the immediate step, but if you get into a tic, what does that mean and how are you going to look out beyond just the immediate steps – sort of the immediate situation – which is tough, because you could be in a really hot firefight but you need to be thinking how to get through that in a way that doesn’t really hurt the overall effort strategically.
And that’s why that focus – again, we’re focused on the Afghan people, we’re focused on developing their forces, and we know that that’s a priority – to get more of the ANA – the army – and the police out here as rapidly as possible. But keeping the Afghan people central is absolutely critical. So I’d ask you to think about that in all that you’re doing.
We’ve learned a lot of lessons in Iraq about counterinsurgency, focus on people, you know, how people start to turn towards us and away from the bad guys, and we want to take advantage of that. And there’s a sense of urgency about making that happen as quickly as possible. So again, we live in a time of change, leading when things are changing is very difficult. But I think, if anything is constant in our lives right now, it’s that things are changing, and you’re right on the leading edge of that.
So you’ll set the tone during this deployment – you’ll set the standard during this deployment for someone else to pick up. How many out of this unit have been to Afghanistan before? One of the things we’re trying to do is work through – obviously, get individuals here with Afghanistan experience so our learning curve is absolutely minimized as we bring more units in. And again, you’re at the beginning of that.
Lastly, I’d just like to talk a little bit about, in very difficult times – and these are challenges, there’s nothing I depend more on than leadership. And it’s not leaders who are leaders by pay grade or seniority; it’s every single one of you. And this extends to the whole people issue – how we take care of each other, how we take care of our families, how we focus on the mission, and that we are – in a time where we are really pressed and we’ve asked you to do a lot – we’re keeping an eye on each other; everybody’s got a buddy in every situation.
And so we understand when the signals are there with an individual that someone might need a break or the stress is getting to be too high, somebody raises a red flag – very normal, very human and we’ve got to make sure we focus on each other and, in that regard, take care of each other. And that is true, again, not just here but also back home with our families.
And that just encompasses the whole focus on treating each other with respect, staying close to each other, making sure we understand what the mission is, making sure we understand enough about each other to ensure we’re all going to be okay. And then we get back home in good shape and once back home, we stay in good shape. So I’d ask you to think about that.
And the reason I bring it up is, throughout my career, in the toughest situations, it’s really been leadership and leaders that have stepped forward. And it’s not just about sergeant first class; it’s about from the most junior to the most senior. So take care of yourself; take care of those who are around you; focus on the mission. Again, you’re the best we’ve ever had, so I have great confidence that you can accomplish this and you’re at the core. And if you can do this, we can all do this. So thanks, take care and God bless. (Applause.)
Just stand up – don’t go back – just stand up. Is that the sergeant major up there? Who is that? Yeah, why don’t you just bring them out here. Who are the Purple Heart recipients? Don’t hit them like that. (Pause.)
MR. : (Inaudible, off mike) – yours.
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah, I know.
MR. : (Off-mike.)
ADM. MULLEN: And if everybody would please come to attention, this is a very special award. One is, there are not many words to those. It comes from the beginning of our country and it was initiated by our first president, George Washington, and it really recognizes individuals who’ve put themselves in harm’s way and sacrificed greatly for our country.
Each and every one of you does that and I know that. And this is a very special recognition for those who obviously have earned this award, or been in a position, obviously, where they were wounded. And I’d like to read one – I’ll read one certificate. And again, the words aren’t long, but they say an awful lot.
“To all who shall see these presents, greeting. This is to certify that the President of the United States of America has awarded the Purple Heart established by General George Washington at Newburgh, New York on August 7th, 1782, to the following individuals for wounds received in action in July 2009 in Afghanistan. Given under my hand in the city of Washington this 13th day of July, 2009. Signed Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army and Curtis M. Scaparotti, Major General, United States Army, Commanding.”
MR. : Private Dean Lentz (sp). (Pause.) Private Michael Slaton (sp). Private Alvarado El Campo (sp). Specialist Steven Dickard (sp). Corporal Jason Cutzer (sp). Sergeant Robby Petri (sp).
ADM. MULLEN: Okay, again, a very special group in a special group. So thanks again for what you’re doing and for the next few minutes, if you want, I’ve got coins up here for anybody that wants to take one. So fall out and carry on.