Admiral Mullen speaks about pride in military

Commanding officer Admiral Mike Mullen came to MU Tuesday to discuss his role in the military, his hopes for future troops, and his work with soldiers who have returned home. Photo by Brittany McGrail /

As Admiral Mike Mullen spoke from the center of the Varsity Theatre stage to a packed house flooded with Reserve Officers’ Training Corps members on Tuesday, it was easy to see the gleam in the future officers’ wide eyes.

They saw a man who had once shared many of their aspirations and had made them a reality.

James Runde, a Naval ROTC alumnus and trustee who arranged the event, introduced Mullen and specifically addressed the ROTC contingent.

“You could spend an entire career in the military without laying eyes on a four-star,” Runde said. “This is a special moment for Milwaukee and Marquette.”

Mullen is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Armed Forces, and the president’s principle military adviser. His duties also include advising the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.

His career spans more than 40 years. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, he served aboard seven different warships and eventually became the 28th chief of naval operations. Prior to this, he served as the Navy’s vice chief of naval operations as well as commander of NATO’s Joint Force Command Naples and commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe.

Mullen entered the stage to astounding applause and gave a brief introduction about his faith in the military, the military’s current state and soldiers’ well-being as they return home.

When he was commissioned during the Vietnam War, he said a majority of people were not behind the military. However, he said times have changed.

“The people are answering categorically ‘yes’ in their support of men and women in uniform,” he said. “This is the best military I have ever been associated with, and the best, I believe, in the world.”

Mullen transitioned into U.S. war involvement over the past decade. Soldiers have been deployed at unprecedented rates and too many have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“We try to constantly remind Americans of that sacrifice and put a face to it,” he said.

As the American people and the military become increasingly disconnected, Mullen expressed concerns for soldiers returning home, saying the old model is no longer applicable. He emphasized the health, education and employment of veterans.

“We expect you to lead and make a difference,” he said, addressing audience members in uniform. “This generation is one wired to serve.”

For the rest of the session, Mullen fielded a number of questions from the audience. The first one dealt with the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which Mullen considers the U.S. military’s main effort.

He said al-Qaida is not the only problem, as there are multiple terrorist organizations working together in ways unseen before.

The U.S. is not alone in fighting terror, he said, mentioning a total of 49 countries involved in the Afghanistan effort.

Mullen was an early advocate for greater focus in Afghanistan. With a clear view of where to go, he said he thinks the U.S. will be in a good place by the end of the year.

The next question probed into the current U.S. relationship with China.  The chairman mentioned China’s status as an engine of the world with the second largest economy, behind the U.S.

“A responsible, growing, peaceful China is fine with me,” he said.

However, Mullen showed apprehension toward China’s defense spending.

“China’s communication is on and off,” he said. “It is easy to misjudge, make wrong decisions and spiral out of control.”

A 2008 alumnus who recently returned from his first deployment asked the admiral what challenges he foresees for the military over the next 10 years.

Mullen said many challenges arise from the constant combat that has been ongoing for a decade.

“This is the most combat-experienced military in the history of our country,” he said.

He cited challenges such as transitioning from combat to civilian life, learning garrison leadership and leading in a time when the pace of the military is greatly reduced.

Mullen answered other questions concerning cyber-warfare, initiatives to conserve the environment and U.S. relations with Israel and Iran.

When a current ROTC member asked for advice, Mullen answered, “Do as well as you can wherever you are, seeking to grow and being curious of things coming your way.”

Mullen pointed out that the times of need are not going to go away. “We would be nowhere near as successful without our guard and reserve,” he said.

And with that, he encouraged those serving our country to retain that glimmer of hope to lead and excel in their future careers as Armed Forces members.