SANTIAGO, Chile– As Chile works toward building a joint force, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday shared insights from U.S. history and emphasized the importance of the joint process.

“The U.S. military is the best in the world” partly because leaders and servicemembers have embraced joint warfighting, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told students at the Chilean War College here.

The chairman is visiting Latin American countries to help improve and maintain military-to-military contacts.

The Chilean military is working to transform its national defense structure. Legislation is in the works to make the force more joint and to speed the force’s decision-making cycle.

Mullen attributed the United States’ success in the process, in part, to finding incentives. The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 grabbed servicemembers’ attention by affecting promotions. The law mandated that officers with joint experience would be favored in the promotion process.

“I know of no other way to change a service more rapidly than to affect promotions,” Mullen noted.

Before the legislation, the services tended to keep their best people on service staffs or in service-specific jobs. After Goldwater-Nichols, the best people went to joint assignments.

The 1990s were a period of growth and experimentation in joint use and doctrine. The U.S. military participated in operations Desert Shield and Storm, Bosnia and Kosovo. Each provided lessons on the way forward. It wasn’t until Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 that the services became a real joint fighting force and “not just checking the box,” the chairman said.

“While we were nominally joint in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, there was way too much service parochialism, way too much turf protection.”

The military was more of a joint force than in the past, but it took wars to speed up the process and make joint warfighting the standard in the American military, he said. Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq pushed the military because “we were losing lives and everything depended on making sure that didn’t happen,” Mullen explained.

The services discarded their parochialism and “whatever [warfighters] could reach for, you could, in order to enhance the joint fight,” the chairman said.

The services did everything they could to make sure those young men and women going into harm’s way “had the best possible outcome in front of them based on our joint capabilities,” he said.

Navy capabilities suddenly became important to infantrymen trying to locate improvised explosive devices. Air Force officers commanded joint units on provincial reconstruction teams. Marines and soldiers developed ways of working together in Fallujah and Hit in Iraq and in Kandahar in Afghanistan.

“There is something very, very real when people are dying that makes you look differently about how you are arrayed, and it opens your lenses up to examine something from a different attitude,” Mullen said.

The results speak for themselves, he said. Between the early 1990s and today, “it is night and day” for joint capabilities. The changes allow servicemembers to work closely together, all reading from a common playbook. All services work together to support successful combat, peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

In the United States, the idea of jointness has gone beyond the Defense Department, Mullen said.

“I have people assigned to the Treasury Department, to Agriculture, to the State Department, and those tours will be valued in terms of future promotions and command assignments,” he said.

The chairman told the students that he does not favor having just a U.S. Defense Force in place of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force. The services bring history and various insights to approaching challenges that are beneficial to America’s common defense, he said.

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