ADM. MULLEN: Well, good evening. This is a time where somebody normally reads your biography. And I’ll say just a couple things about what happened to me after I left here in 1968.
I immediately went to a destroyer out in the West Coast, and not too long after that, I went to Vietnam. And as this tour for me as been bookended by two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, over the last four years, my career has also been bookended by war. So lots of time on the gun line, firing guns, literally until the five-inch guns melted in support of ground forces in Vietnam.
After that, I was fortunate to command a ship very early and was seized with responsibility and leadership and command and sailors and seeing the world, and then was able to get into the company officer business. I was a much different company officer than I was a midshipman.
Some of the midshipmen who were here at that time would certainly attest to that. They claimed I actually put almost every one of them on report. That really wasn’t true. But being involved with midshipmen and being back in Annapolis was a great part of our life. And I was here on the admissions ward when we first admitted women to the Naval Academy. It was a very consequential time in the mid-’70s for the Naval Academy and, in that regard, for the Navy.
We went on after that. Commanded a couple more ships. And that’s, more than anything else, what I really love, that responsibility, particularly so early in my career. As a flag officer, as I got more senior, was in positions of commanding a carrier battle group. And as a – as a black shoe you don’t get to spend much time on aircraft carriers.
Went to the Persian Gulf when we almost went to Iraq – went to war with Iraq in ’97 and ’98. Came back, commanded the Second Fleet, came to Washington for a budget tour – a program tour, we call it – and actually got to Washington one week before 9/11. And the 10th anniversary of that tragedy, obviously, we just celebrated, but that changed – that redefined my future and, I think, in great part, defined your future.
And since that time, went overseas, commanded in Naples, Italy – first time I really was around ground troops – 17,000 ground troops – in Kosovo, in the Balkans, as a Navy guy – and then also in Iraq, in and out or Iraq at that time – lots of sailors on the ground in Iraq, but that’s when I really started to come to grips with what was going on there.
Came back, was the vice chief of naval operations and was the CNO for two years, all of which was certainly, in ways, unexpected, but a wonderful couple years as CNO. Every expectation – I finished a four-year tour as CNO.
And then, out of the blue, I got picked to be the chairman. And I really do mean that, out of the blue, so it has been – and in that regard, I’ve become intimately familiar with our ground forces in a time of war, seen the sacrifices that are there for them and their families.
So it’s been a career that was much different than I anticipated, but it’s been the career of a lifetime, and we’ve really enjoyed it.
What I’d like to do tonight is talk to you a little bit – (laughter) – now, this could have been a picture from my last Forrestal lecture. (Laughter.) And this isn’t my aim to try to put you to sleep. What I’d like to do is talk about a couple lessons that I’ve had the privilege of learning over the course of 43 years.
And the first one is about failure.
This could have been me at 26 years old. I was in command of a ship. And actually, on my first operation on that ship, which was a small gasoline tanker, Vietnam era, I – coming back on my first sea detail I managed to run it into buoy number 11 in Thimble Shoals (ph) Channel. When you’re on a ship and you’re a CO, colliding with anything is not a good thing.
And at that point in time, my career took a nosedive. I was only two months into command and I thought I was doing pretty well. But what happened at that is – and it was the first time I’d really failed at anything. And it was a – it was a tough thing to come to grips with.
And what – the lessons that I learned from that – and this is – this is my evaluation at the time. And – if you go back just one slide – if you – you want to be – in fact, these are difference – different fitness reports from what we have right now. What you – what you want to be is all the way over here on the left-hand side. And so in the middle or on the right-hand side, below the majority, that’s really the equivalent or that’s code for “F,” and you’re failing pretty badly. And –
So that was in 1973. I loved command. I loved – I loved sailors. I’ve actually deployed this command twice to the Mediterranean. My wife and I didn’t have kids at the time. She backpacked around Europe in the ’70s when I was at sea. And we had a wonderful two and a half years.
The problem was recovering from this. And I made up my mind I was going to do that. And the measure, quite frankly, for me, wasn’t how – that I had failed; the measure really was, how I handle it.
And one of the things I’d like you to take away from that is, we’re all going to fall on our face now and then. And the measure really is, how do you get up off the deck, how do you dust yourself off and how do you look to the future?
And you see some of that here. Certainly, that’s part of the training here. It’s a little more difficult when you’re in the fleet. And actually, this – as I said, this happened in 1973. It took me 11 years to recover from the standpoint of my career and subsequently screened for another command – which I did at the 05 level, literally on my second-to-last screening opportunity.
And if you go to this, it said, this is kind of wonderful code for, you’re not doing very well. “Lieutenant Mullen’s own missed judgment of his ship’s characteristics and lack of appreciation for the prevailing tide in current conditions were the proximate cause of the incident. This misjudgment may be attributed to his youth and lack of experience.” Those lines haunted me for a long time.
I was able to, however, recover from that, persist, and in the end was very much able to get back on track.
And one of the messages, with respect to that, is, we’re not a zero-defect Navy. We weren’t then; we aren’t now. In fact, one of the great joys of the Navy, from my perspective, is, it does reward persistence. And it does reward performance.
I’m not saying – I’m not saying that – you know, seek failure here and you’ll do OK. That’s not the case. But it does happen. We’re all human.
The other thing about taking a command as a lieutenant is, I got counsel from friends that it was – you know, you shouldn’t go do this because it was pretty high risk. And it was high risk. And from my – from my perspective, taking that risk was more than worth it – high risk and high reward. And there were plenty of my peers who chose not to take command, to take a quieter path that I fell behind for a long time. But in the end, the Navy – the Navy saw something in there, in me, that allowed me to continue.
Secondly, I had mentors. I had senior officers at that time, commanders and captains who saw something in me that gave me hope for the future. And it was really through them that I found out how to address this issue officially and was able to eventually overcome what was a pretty rough start in command.
So I would just ask you to think about that issue of failure, how do you recover. It isn’t that you failed, quite frankly; it’s how you get up and it’s how you move ahead. And it’s how you’ve been trained here, to be able to do that and have an awful lot of confidence in that.
Now, the second – the second theme I’d like to talk to – I’ll introduce with a clip.
(Begin interview segment.)
MR. LETTERMAN: It was explained to me that you were appointed to this position by President Bush. Is that correct?
ADM. MULLEN: Correct.
MR. LETTERMAN: And when President Obama was elected, typically a person comes in and would want to re-staff various positions. He was advised, no, this is the one guy you want to hang on to. Is that more or less how it happened?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I'm not sure exactly what his thoughts were, but certainly he reappointed me. These are – the chairman serves for two years at a time. And my second – my first term ended not too long after President Obama came in and he saw fit to reappoint me to the second two years.
MR. LETTERMAN: Yeah. And I think he said, is that the guy that crashed into the jet ski? (Laughter.) Yeah, that's him. OK. (Applause.)
(End interview segment.)
(Begin interview segment.)
ADM. MULLEN: We serve the president, whoever that is. Men and women who serve know that. And we serve President Obama every bit as much we served President Bush – (inaudible).
JON STEWART: Has there been a difference in their style? You know, it’s – things have gotten so hot and politicized here in this country – for instance, with this terror attack, the exact same actions by President Bush would be criticized by President – if President Obama did them, and vice versa. Do you see a difference in their styles? Is there effectiveness that you see from President Obama that you appreciate? Are there that you’d like to see differently? Can you not answer that? Would you like me to shut up? (Laughter.)
ADM. MULLEN: I’ll take the – I’ll take the last two answers. (Laughter.)
(End interview segment.)
ADM. MULLEN: So the second theme, really, tonight is that we in the military must remain apolitical. Stay out of politics. The strength of my job and the strength of that shown by those who have failed, it has been the independent, unvarnished, best military advice to two presidents in very challenging times. And in that regard, that advice must, in no way, be politicized. And Washington is a political town, so it can be very, very challenging.
But it isn’t just about me as the chairman; it’s about us as a military. You see on television these days many – from my perspective, far too many retired officers who speak and speak with authority. And that, I think, over the long run, has moved us too close to the political arena, with very strong opinions, very strong views about certain things. You see them – and I hope we don’t see them next year – but you see them on the dais, if you will, at political conventions. And we’ve seen that for years. And quite frankly, that’s a message – that is a – that is a message sent to many people that I think is the wrong message. It’s the wrong message for the American people. It’s the wrong message for the men and women in the military.
We serve at the pleasure – you do that, you know that – we serve our civilian leadership. And civilian control of the military, not civilian leadership, is a bedrock principle for us in the military. And we give – I give my advice privately. I don’t talk about it publicly. And then the president makes a decision and we carry it out. And if we can’t agree with that, if we feel strongly about it, the proper vote, quite frankly, is to vote with our feet.
George Marshall is a man I’ve studied and have a great regard for. And one of the things that he said, in his – that he – that he basically adhered to in his senior leadership positions, that the more he disagreed personally with the decision of the civilian leadership – presidents – the president, in this case – the stronger he had to work and the more he had to make sure that he supported those decisions.
And to the – and I see many countries all over the world, I see my counterparts all over the world in much different systems. And I see too many militaries that are very badly politicized. And that would be an undoing for us as a country and as a military.
And I would ask you to think about that, even in your very junior positions, because there is so much information out there. And we – as you have joined the military, we have conditioned you otherwise. But that specific bedrock principle is absolutely vital.
One of the reasons I’m still in, one of the reasons I stayed is just because of the great people. And that’s the center of who we are as military. And we have responsibilities for our people.
But we also have responsibilities for our – the institutions that we represent, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Naval Academy. And in that – in those responsibilities, we have to – we present those institutions. And we have to keep that in mind literally in every single thing that we’re doing. And we carry out our duties to support those institutions in – to support those institutions.
And I’ve been around long enough – I watched, from the Navy perspective, in the ’90s, in the post – in the Tailhook aftermath, where the Navy lost its way. And the heart of who we are – and I talk about commands and I talk about responsibility – it is accountability. It is leadership accountability. And taking accountability heals a wound quickly. Taking accountability is what you need to do, not for you as an individual, but as a leader who is responsible. And it heals the institution almost instantly. And we didn’t do that as well as we should have – and I was a young captain at the time trying to understand all this, but as I look back on it now, as I grow up – grew up through it and look back on it now, it was a very dangerous time for us as a Navy.
We had our challenges in that same time frame here at the Naval Academy where the Naval Academy became – got put under a microscope. And there were those – and I was in Washington at the time – that really brought in the question whether we should – we should have institutions like this. We should never put ourselves in the position to threaten this institution or the larger institutions that we always – that we – that we represent.
This scene that I depict here – speaking of duty – I often times get asked, in this job, what’s the best day and what’s the worst day?
The worst day in this job wasn’t too long ago when we had 22 – actually 30 soldiers, sailors, airmen shot out of the sky in Afghanistan. Eight of them were Afghans – Afghanistani – or Afghan soldiers; 22 of them, United States. Single biggest loss in these wars.
And what we have seen, what I have seen – and this goes back to my experience in Vietnam when we did not face up to the war – we spent a lot of time at Dover, we spent a lot of time at Arlington because those families, those who pay the ultimate price, represent the best of who we are, the best of what America is, the willingness to give one’s life for one’s country.
And when I and my wife Deborah went to Dover to meet the returns of those 30 individuals – and we met with the family members there, as we have many times, and President Obama went there and met with every single family – and the appreciation that they have and show when a president does like that, words – does that, words are hard to describe it.
But there are sort of two things that were said that day to us. One was from a father who told me that his son had wanted to do this, be a SEAL, be in special ops, since he was 12 years old and in fact bypassed an appointment to the academy so that he get at it earlier, at an earlier age and that he died doing exactly what he wanted to do.
And then separately two spouses said to Deborah and I that my husband would have gotten on that airplane had he known it was going to be his last flight. That is the essence of who we are as a military. That is the essence of those that you will lead, some of you sooner than later, all of you relatively speaking very quickly. That service, that sacrifice – the strength of those families has been inspirational. You try to comfort them; in the end, they end up inspiring you. And we should never forget that, as a country, as a military, the toughest part of war are these losses and the wounded and the families, and we should absolutely never forget that, and that’s the duty that I see executed all the time.
I also get asked, well, OK, so what’s the best day that you’ve experienced as chairman? And moving to the best day, I’d like to just sort of start with this clip.
(Begin interview segment.)
MR. : Here we go. This is the day and what I understand this to be, you and your pals there – (laughter) – I wonder, is this the Super Bowl party? (Laughter.) This is – what? No, no, it –
(End interview segment.)
ADM. MULLEN: No politics that day, high-risk decision, and obviously we killed bin Laden. And that becomes the focus of that day and in many ways rightfully so.
But for me, that day was more than just about killing bin Laden. That was about an evolution over the course of my career of 30 years, from the late ’70s, when we tried to get the hostages out of Iran and failed in the desert, lost some real heroes that day. Started not too long after that the Special Operations Command, but it wasn’t just about special operators over 30 years. It was about the military over 30 years. It was about becoming the best military in the world, which is what we are right now.
And by no means is our work done despite that success, because there’s still plenty of them out there who really would like to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. And that was an evolution; that was an operation – at the center of that was relationships, the best work I’ve ever seen in our interagency, the best work between operators and intel types that I’ve ever seen that culminated in that success.
And with respect with relationships, this is really where it all started for me. And as I look at these photos up here – these are all classmates, dear friends, different backgrounds – when I was young kid, as I said earlier, that 17 years old, coming from southern California, and if you are – if you open a dictionary in California, you can’t find a definition of the word “humidity.” (Laughter.) So I come here on the 30th of June in 1964 – it’s 95 degrees, 90 percent humidity – I land at Baltimore, I get off the plane, and I said, I cannot believe people actually live here. (Laughter.) And I was – I was scratching my head the first couple days: What have I done to myself? But on that day, I met my classmates and those classmates then and now open up my eyes and have been friends my entire life.
And little did we know, how much we’d learn about each other. Little did I – any of us know that Jay Johnson would become the CNO or Mike Hayden (sp) would become the commandant or Charlie Bolden would become an astronaut and go on to run NASA. And somehow this institution and this way of life brought a guy like Mike Mullen from southern California, who sat in his living room in the summer of ’65, 15 miles from Watts, watching it burn and not having a clue what was really going on there. And I get here with Charlie Bolden who has struggled and represented the best of whom we are and he talks to me; he educates me about his background and his story, and he touches me in a way that – where the diversity of us becomes obvious as a great strength. And then the last guy some of you may recognize, my dearest friend in life, who has probably touched more midshipmen than just about anybody I know, stationed here, and we actually knew each other with our girlfriends back then, and we’re all still together.
So the relationship piece – and then what happened in the Navy is, as I traveled around the world, you start to figure out that relationships are absolutely vital. And so over time and particularly in this job, I have spent a great deal of my efforts connecting with my counterparts in Russia, in China, in Turkey, in Japan, in Korea, in England, in France, in Italy, in African countries, in Brazil, all over the world, because in the world that we’re living in, the strength of who we are is tied to our relationships.
And then there’s no relationship that’s more important to me than that which I have with the troops. And the wonderful opportunity that I’ve had, particularly in this job, to learn a lot more about ground forces. When these wars started, I knew, because of Vietnam, that our ground forces would bear the brunt, as they always do in wars. It’s one of the reasons, when I was CNO, I put as many sailors into the fight as I possibly could because every single sailor was going to relieve some pressure on our ground forces and the Air Force did the same thing.
My own leadership style is to try to understand what I’m asking my troops to do. I sign orders every week that send young people into war, and I know some of them are not coming back. And I want to know as much about what I’m asking them to do as I possibly can if I’m going to ask them to sacrifice their lives. They taught me early – my first tour, first destroyer, my first chief – taught me to trust my people, depend on my people, and that has stayed with me through this day.
And while this depicts the Marine Corps, it is true in every single service. And the sacrifice and performance and the relationship that I, as a leader, have tried to make sure was strong, make sure I was clear, make sure I listened to them to understand what their needs were, what their concerns were, listened to them whether they’re a world leader or a corporal in the trench. Am I doing all I can to make this work? And then that gets to other relationships I’d like to speak to, and there’s just – I’ve got one last clip I’d like to run.
(Begin interview segment.)
MR. STEWART: I was surprised – and I know you have a lot of respect for the fighting men and women, I was surprised that when we landed in Kandahar that you forced them to carry you around on the litter. (Laughter.) I thought – (laughter) – I thought – I thought that was – I thought that was interesting, and I don’t know where they got rose petals. Certainly it’s a – it’s a dry and arid place. (Laughter.) But I’m glad you – (inaudible).
ADM. MULLEN: Well, that usually only happens once a trip. (Laughter.)
(End interview segment.)
ADM. MULLEN: So why Jon Stewart and why David Letterman and why did Deborah and I appear on “The View”? (Laughter.) I think I can answer that question.
It really is something that I have come to understand, that is a worry for me, in terms of our connection with the American people. We can never become a military that is disconnected from our people in any way. We must represent them, and yet we come from fewer and fewer places in the country. We’re less than 1 percent of the population, and we also have a terrific habit of speaking to ourselves.
And as I travel throughout the country, time and time again, I’ve been struck by how little the American people know about what we’ve been through. They certainly know we’re at war. They certainly know that we’re losing people. They are almost unanimously supportive of us in uniform. But they don’t know I’ve been on five or six or seven deployments or if I’m a special operator, I’ve been 15 or 16 or 17 deployments. They don’t know about these families who are so extraordinary and so integral to our readiness as a military, the sacrifices that they are making. They don’t know that if you’re a 15 year old boy or girl and your father or mother, mostly father, has deployed at this pace, that your entire life, your entire consciousness has been at war. That’s never happened in our history.
They are not aware of the challenges we have with suicides, which have doubled since these wars started and now exceed the national rates. They are not aware of the post-traumatic stress, the degree to it; the traumatic brain injuries, mild and serious. And yet 80 percent of those who join the military return to cities and townships and counties all over the country. And one of the challenges that we have is how do we connect these great young people, 20-somethings’ life experiences, disciplined leaders. They have seen the world; maturity; they show up on time. And they want to – and some of them had been wounded, visible and invisible, but if we can connect them to community leaders in what I call the sea of goodwill out there and basically give them a boost as they seek an education through a very robust GI Bill, as they seek good health, and of course as they seek employment, oftentimes – more oftentimes than not, two-income families. And these are individuals who have gone off to war and sacrificed, done the nation’s bidding, and theirs is a debt that we cannot repay.
And this is the military you will lead very shortly, and I know you look to it enthusiastically, but they – but in America we cannot afford to become disconnected from our people. And so one of the challenges to you – and it’s back to the relationship piece and the engagement piece – is, in your time, get out there and engage. Don’t just assume that America knows you because I have not found that to be the case. And this connection is a two-way street. It’s not just about the American people coming to us. We must go to them and, if we do that, our future is very, very bright. We cannot afford the kind of erosion long term if we somehow get more and more disconnected from the American people.
I talked about families – family support and the relationships that are there has always been critical to us as a military, never more so than in these wars. I talked about the number of deployments, the challenges that we see our military kids going through, spouses going through. And yet they’re every bit as much – they’re every bit a part of our readiness as every – as anything we do, and we must care for them and make sure that they stay – we stay centered on them in terms of what they’ve given, that they are serving, they are sacrificing, and they are vital not to just these wars, but to our future.
So we’ve been very blessed. I’ve been very blessed. I came here, as I said at the age of 17; my original plan was I was just going to stay two years. You’ve now converted that to the – what is it? The day that you sign the contract? (Laughter.) What is that magic day, that seven-year – what’s it called?
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Off mic.)
ADM. MULLEN: “Two for seven.” I can remember – actually my class was the first class that had a five-year obligation and that actually gave a lot of people pause. It went from four to five. And when you showed up your third year, started class, that you were committed. We didn’t have to – we didn’t sign anything back then.
But I met my classmates, fell in love with the institution, in most ways – (laughter) – was delighted to leave, swore I’d never be back, and have sailed the world, led extensively, and been able to contribute over time, both in war and in peace, to a better world, to make a difference.
And I’ve done that with a partner who has dedicated her life to what we do. And she is a young lady that I met – our first date was the Army-Navy game back in 1967, long time ago. She didn’t like me a lot. (Laughter.) That didn’t bother me that much; I’m a pretty persistent fellow. But someone who has made a huge difference for our families and a huge difference, who has been with me in theatre each year and has connected with our USO, the Stewarts, the Lettermans, “The View,” and we used those venues to try to get the message out about who we are.
So the clips have some humor in them, but if you watch the whole show, the message is very serious about who we are and the challenges and the pride that we have. And my wife Deborah of now 41 years is the love of my life – (applause) – in a – in a – and that was graduation day on a field, not very – not very far from here where all of you will get to in the not-too-distant future. So special place, special night for us, special career that I knew precious little about when I was sitting where you’re sitting.
And lastly I just want to thank you, I want to thank you – it should never go unnoticed that you have raised your hand in a time of war to serve your country. That is the heart of who we are as a country. You serve and protect the freedoms that we care about. And in so many ways, we are the beacon for peoples around the world as we have been and as we are and as we will be in the future.
So thank you for what you’re doing. Keep working hard. Keep making a difference. God bless you and your families. Thank you. (Applause.)
So now I have one more slide and the question is: Do you have any questions?
MR. : There are microphones staged throughout – please move down and ask questions.
ADM. MULLEN: Go ahead.
Q: Sir. Midshipman 1st Class Cameron (ph). With looming budget cuts, where do you see the Navy tightening its belt and what are the potential consequences for King Hall’s buffalo chicken sandwiches? (Laughter.)
ADM. MULLEN: I’ve been trying to get rid of those sandwiches for a long time. (Laughter, applause.) But we are in a very, very tough budget environment, actually not just in the military but, quite frankly, in the country. I’ve said for a long time now that I think the number-one threat to our national security is our budget deficit. And we as a country have got to get a grip on that. And for me it’s pretty – it’s pretty simple math. My budget in the Pentagon is directly tied to that deficit. So the worse it gets, the smaller my budget gets. That resource reduction then impacts the entire military.
So I think – and we’ve been in a – we’ve been in a situation where our budget has almost doubled since 2000. We’ve been in two wars – I understand that. But when you’re – when that much money is coming in we’ve lost the discipline to prioritize, to make tough choices, to do tough analysis and we’ve got to do that now. And we, I think, must and can pay our fair share in this, although that has limits. And we have to do it very carefully.
And I think we have to do this with strategic focus, meaning what is our overall strategy? Where are we going to be? What are we going to do? And then, given that, what capabilities do we need? And then, how do you – how do you buy those capabilities? And how many people we should have; how big our military should be by each service; how many ships, airplanes, tanks, unmanned vehicles; how big our intelligence budget should be; our space budget?
As we look at a world that is increasingly centered, I think, in the Pacific and in the Middle East – as I look the future – when people ask me about the future one of the things that I say: This is the most combat-experienced force we’ve ever had. And I think the measure of how we will do in the future is going to be whether we can keep the right leaders in for the future. And we need to focus on that. And I’m talking young captains and lieutenants, majors, lieutenant commanders, chiefs, senior chiefs, technical sergeants, master sergeants, master chiefs and sergeant majors. How many of you stay around taking advantage of this experience? And I think almost – if we can do that well, anything is possible in a positive way for the future.
But we clearly are going to come down a significant amount in terms of overall resources and we’re in the midst of doing that work right now. Now, whether that leaves those sandwiches here or not, I’m not sure. (Laughter.) But I think we all have to recognize that. Every one of us has – we have to cinch up our belts. And we haven’t been in the habit of that for a decade. And you go that long, it may as well be forever.
I’ve been around long enough – we did this in the ’70s, we did this in the ’90s. We’re not living in those worlds right now. It’s a very dangerous world. We are going to continue to be called on. So what we do and how we do it and keeping that balance right in terms of full-spectrum capability, the people piece, the operations piece and the equipment and stuff that we buy is absolutely critical.
But it’s going to – we will certainly see that over the course of what I believe will be the next several years. These things go in cycles, pretty predictable. And it’s about nine or 10 years at a crack.
Q: Sir, Midshipman 3rd Class Rylov (ph) from 2nd Company. Sir, my question is, in my short time at this institution I’ve witnessed a lot of spectacular things and also some things that make me and my classmates cynical about our daily routines here. And as a midshipman once yourself, I’m wondering what would be your advice on how to deal with some of those issues as a midshipman? How can we better the institution and – how can we change things that we feel are – that we just can’t wrap our heads around and make us cynical, because I think that’s one of the biggest problems at this place, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: Cynical midshipmen? (Laughter.)
Q: Yes, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: I would not be able – I could not try to set a goal to eliminate cynicism here – (laughter, applause) – and know how to get there. That said, I mean, this is obviously your experience, but this is not unique to this institution. You’re going to be in command for a long time. And so the question is a great question. And it’s – first of all, how do you – you’re, what – you’re a youngster?
Q: Third class, sir, yes.
ADM. MULLEN: OK. Don’t we still call them youngsters?
Q: Yes, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: OK, just checking – just checking. (Laughter.) Just checking. How do you – can – and our – and the youngsters still sleep a lot? (Laughter, applause.)
Q: Yes, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: OK. How – so the question is – and it – I mean, it really is a good question. I mean, first of all – so you have some responsibility, obviously, for those who are junior to you. And one of the challenges we all have as we get more senior, how do you really know what’s going on where it matters? And it’s very tightly divided here, I understand that, between classes. But it’s really why we have a chain of command. It’s really why, and from my perspective, how – in knowing what’s going on and knowing it should be changed, how do you address it and not just sit somewhere and complain about it and become more cynical?
But in fact, and particularly if it’s a serious issue, how do you address it? And there’s a chain of command here to do that. And there always will be. And there’ll be leaders, some who will and some who won’t come to grips with that. So it’s the training and the leadership experience that – it may be a little difficult to grasp all that right now in your second year here – or even over four years – but quite frankly it’s that experience that I got here that gave me the foundation to be able to go on and be seized with leadership throughout my Navy career and taking care of people.
And certainly if there’s something that’s going on that isn’t right, you got to step forward, whether no one else does. And that takes courage. I’m assuming the peer pressure here is every bit as enormous as it’s ever been. And you got to step out of that. You cannot be driven by peer pressure here or your whole life. If you do or if you are, I just think you’re going to come up short. So I think it depends on what the issues are and you can’t – you may not be able to get them all, but the serious ones you really ought to address up your chain.
Q: Thank you very much, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: And in the long run – in the long run it will make the institution better. It really will.
Q: Yes, sir. Thank you.
Q: Sir, good evening. Midshipman 2nd Class Morgola (ph), 2nd Company. Sir, on advice – what is your advice to civilian leadership on the implementation of a 401(k) retirement plan versus current military benefits for retirement?
ADM. MULLEN: Oh, I’m actually – I’m actually delighted to get that question. (Laughter.) Back to the whole – the budget challenges that we have – and literally I sat in a two – almost a two-hour meeting today with the senior civilian and military leadership, the service chiefs, talking about exactly this issue. And we’re in a position right now where some of the things that have dramatically increased over the course of the last 10 years – so, since 2000 – the cost of our people in 2000 was about $100 billion dollars. This year it’s $180 billion.
We’ve grown total percentage, 4 percent. So our costs have gone up 80 percent – and I’m not – I’m not fighting that. We’re a very well-compensated force. We’re in two wars. We’re dying for our country and we need to be well-compensated. But it isn’t infinite. And the cash bucket is not infinite. So we’re going to have to do – in a balanced way come to grips with some, I think, compensation issues. There’s no immediate plan to change retirement. And what President Obama recommended to the supercommittee a couple of days ago was to set up a commission to address that issue. And that will happen over the course of the next year.
And so senior military advisors intimate to this process – it will actually be a proposal that comes from the Pentagon and in fact then moves through a process to eventually get to Congress to be approved or not approved. But I suspect there will be some compensation issues. I just don’t know what they are. And they won’t just be active-duty because a significant amount of our costs go to the – those who have retired. And in that debate and in that discussion, back to what I said earlier about prioritizing – if you make me prioritize between, you know, those who are serving now in these wars, active duty, and our retired, my priority is for those who are serving.
That doesn’t mean that we do one and not do the other, but that’s my own focus. And there’s a whole host of compensation issues. It’s very clear to me that if we don’t come to grips with some of those compensation issues – it’s pay, it’s housing allowance, it’s bonuses, it’s retirement pay, it’s health care. My health care costs were $19 billion in 2001. They’re 51 billion (dollars) this year. In four years they’re going to be 64 – or they’re going to be 65 billion (dollars). Not sustainable. And then you take that given the environment that we’re in right now.
So there’s going to have to be some changes. We’re need to do it in a balanced way and in a fair way, not break faith with this force that I talked about, recognize – and in many cases if we make changes, grandfather them for those that were already committed to one system, and do it in a way that is fair but at the same time starts to get control of those costs. But the short answer is we’re not making any changes to retirement right now.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Q: Sir, Midshipman 1st Class Wayne (ph). I was wondering if you could honor us with the story of how you got 115 demerits in your first month, the first year. (Laughter.) And on top of that if you could offer us some advice on how to stay – how to stay out of trouble, sir. (Laughter.)
ADM. MULLEN: Here’s how I’ll answer that question. (Laughter.) When I was here they all told me, you know, that those records would disappear forever. (Laughter.) Remember that? Are you – you’re a 1st class, so you know – you know the playing field is level on graduation day. And actually that’s really true, and I’m proof of that. I will – I did – I will tell you that that was a very bad day. I was out – actually it was a bad evening. I was out – I think it was the first of October or something like that – actually very close to my birthday – big birthday present from Mother Bancroft (ph) at the time. (Laughter.)
And I was down in my locker exchanging uniforms, looking for my blues, getting out of whites. I smoked at the time – and I don’t recommend that. I was out during study hour, you know, in a b-robe that wasn’t in very good shape. And all of a sudden – and I’m fooling around in my locker – I hear this voice over the back of my shoulders. And it was the OD (ph). And I actually had some unauthorized liquid in my locker. (Laughter, applause.) And this is true – it wasn’t mine. (Laughter.) But it was a very good friend of mine’s at the time. And he asked me – and the OD said, now, is that X, Y or Z in that bottle?
And I said, yes, it’s X, it’s not Y or Z. (Laughter.) So in the matter of a few minutes, you know, the cumulation was 115. And actually – and I don’t know the system that well now. I know there are major offenses, et cetera. But in those days if you got 150 you were out, if you were at 120 you were on second-class rates. So I went back to my room, I threw away every single piece of uniform that had a shred on it or a hole on it – hole on anything – and in fact, ended the year successfully with 115 demerits.
I also – and this is – I – you know, I think this is an – at least it was an important lesson for me. I can honestly say that wasn’t the first time I broke the rules over four years I was here. And in fact, you know, obviously my luck had run out. So – and I talk about, you know, coming back from failure. I was pretty close to failure at that point – running scared, got smart and stayed out of trouble the rest of the year, and did so in a way that allowed me to graduate, which really was my objective at the time.
So that’s – actually that’s the whole story. Outside of those who were there – and actually there are a couple of my classmates who were there at the time, they’re sitting here tonight – you know, I have never told that story publicly. (Laughter, applause.)
Q: Thank you, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: Is Pestorius (ph) here? (Laughter.) It was his! (Cheers, applause.)
Q: Sir, Midshipman 2nd Class Davidson (ph).
ADM. MULLEN: (Inaudible.)
Q: The Navy is investing a lot of –
ADM. MULLEN: Is the answer 31 to zero? Because I’m hoping you’re going to ask me how bad you’re going to beat Air Force. (Cheers, applause.)
Q: We can ask that too, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: All right.
Q: The Navy is investing a lot of time and energy into alternative energy resources. I was wondering if the 2020 target date is a realistic goal in lieu of the government cutbacks?
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, as I look at what we’ve done – and we’re not just starting on the budget issues right now – all the services for the last several years have taken that whole issue very seriously. I think it will be a major, major issue in your career. And I don’t think that we will be overly constrained from a fiscal – from a budget investment standpoint at all – at all. In fact, most of the studies for those kinds of investments show a lot of long-term savings. We have to invest some upfront now. And those investments are both being made and being sustained.
Q: Thank you, sir.
ADM. MULLEN: So thanks again. This is serious stuff. You’re in a place that is the best institution in the country. Continue to do well. Continue to make it better as it makes you better. Thanks for serving and thanks for making a difference. Now – no, you don’t – please don’t clap. Is that – oh, this – is this the gift time?
MR. : Yes, sir, sorry. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)
ADM. MULLEN: Sorry, go ahead. Go ahead.
MR. : We appreciate your time tonight, sir. And on behalf of the Great – (inaudible) –
we’d like to present you with this gift. (Cheers, applause.)
ADM. MULLEN: OK, so lastly I brought with me several coins. I’m going to come right down here. I’m going to stand here. I’m going to hand them out as long as you come up to get them. Thanks, and God bless.