WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2010 – The broader Middle East, taking care of troops and their families and managing risk remain the military’s top priorities, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told participants in the Inside Washington Seminar held at George Washington University here that his goals for the coming years mirror the goals he set when he took office in October 2007.

The seminar, which includes students from 75 colleges and universities around the country, is a way for the chairman to reach out to the next generation of American leaders.

Mullen told the students that two wars in the greater Middle East are the highest priority for the Defense Department. In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus is on the Gulf states and Iran.

The chairman said he welcomed the vigorous debate over the Afghanistan strategy. “I’ve learned a lot, and I think we all have,” he said. “Very instructive to me has been the policy debate that we had late last year for almost three months about the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The strategy encompasses both Afghanistan and Pakistan and under it, President Barack Obama ordered another 30,000 U.S. servicemembers to Afghanistan. “Now we’re in the execution phase of that,” Mullen said.

The chairman called the president’s decision “courageous,” and said that the commanders in the region have all they need to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and disrupt and defeat al-Qaida.

The chairman stressed to the students that they need to look at international problems and challenges not just through U.S. eyes, but that of other countries. Before taking office, Mullen had been to Pakistan once. Since taking office, he has traveled to Pakistan 14 times.

“It’s a critical country in a critical part of the world,” he said. “I encouraged the debate and I think we should always have debate on issues of this magnitude in this country.”

Taking care of the people of the armed services is another priority. Putting the best people where they are needed most is a big part of that push, Mullen said.

“Putting my best people on my No. 1 priority is an absolute requirement,” he said. “In the end, so much of what we do boils down to leadership and it boils down to how leaders lead, how they lead in times of change. And you are going to grow up learning leadership as things change.”

The U.S. Army is deploying now as the Navy and Marine Corps always have, Mullen said. Servicemembers are deploying more and spending less time at home, and this has placed great strain on servicemembers and their families.

“Multiple deployments, stress on individuals, stress on families, a dramatically increased suicide rate across all the services” — all are problems, he said. “But the military has taken significant steps to address those issues.”

Managing risk is the chairman’s third priority. This means looking at the rest of the world and making an educated guess where more risk can be accepted. The entire Pacific Basin is posed to be a sustaining economic engine for the globe, he said. Other areas, such as Africa, have similar potential, but also enormous challenges.

The chairman said his early military experience trained him to look east and west. But Mexico and the rest of Latin America are crucial to American well-being, with Brazil being another global economic engine, he said. “We as Americans are going to have to focus more and more on our partners,” he said.

Mullen already is looking at what will happen once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over. “What does our military look like? What will our challenges be for the future?” he said.

“Part of my charter is to look out 10 and 20 years to see what we need to do, with my first priority being the missions I’ve got, the second priority, making sure we take care of the people, and then the third really is to look to the future in terms of how does it look, and knowing in the incredibly challenging times in which we exist that the military will be a big part of this.”

Up Next

Defense Official Calls Intel Report ‘Candid’

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2010 – The broader Middle East, taking care of troops and…