FORT BELVOIR, Va., April 22, 2008 – Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told noncommissioned officers here today that this is the most dangerous period he has seen in his more than 40 years in uniform. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the threats of extremism and changes happening around the world associated with energy and resources make the present day “the most uncertain and potentially the most dangerous time since I’ve been serving,” he said at a noncommissioned officer quarterly breakfast.

Mullen told the NCOs that their service at this time is absolutely vital. “(Your service) is bedrock to this country,” he said. “Without that service and without that dedication, we could not be the country that we are; that’s just flat-out the truth. We shouldn’t take that for granted.”

The increasing pace of change also puts challenges to all military leaders, Mullen said.

“I can rack and stack it: whether it’s the missions, whether it’s where we are, whether it’s what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, the skills that we are evolving — this kind of change will continue as far as I can see in the future,” he said.

The changes are not limited to warfighting, but are systemic, he said. “It’s how we’re going to recruit, how we’re going to train, how we’re going to educate, what our career paths are, how do we incentivize our people now and in the future,” he said.

It can be difficult to adapt to change, but change also can lead to tremendous opportunities, the chairman said.

“For our younger people, it’s an exciting time,” he said. “We bring more and more young people in who quickly adapt to change, who see opportunity, and we need to figure out how to adapt the institutions … as rapidly as possible.”

Change is happening particularly fast within the military reserve components and in health care. These areas are evolving “almost as fast as the clock ticks,” Mullen said.

He told the NCOs to think back to the way the military did business in 2001 and to look at the services today. He said that change was “probably not possible without the sense of urgency that war brings.”

The world has entered an era of persistent conflict, he said, and NCOs must be ready to confront and lead change. NCO experiences will be important to the force of the future.

“This is the most battle-hardened force we have ever had,” and retaining and capitalizing on that experience will be essential to the armed services’ future, he said.

Mullen also addressed President Bush’s decision to reduce Army deployments from 15 months to 12. “That’s a big deal,” he said. “(My) view was that 15 months was just too long.”

In addition, the admiral said, the military must work to build dwell time, the amount of time at home station between deployments. “I believe we’re not home enough right now,” he said.

Ultimately, soldiers will be 24 months at home station for every year deployed and Marines will look to 14 months at home station for every seven months deployed, Mullen said.

He said he is “cautiously optimistic” a modification of the Montgomery G.I. Bill would allow servicemembers to transfer their benefits to their spouses or children.

“There is broad bipartisan support, as far as I can tell, to push this through, and it speaks to the recognition that the support of our families is so vital,” Mullen said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. What’s different is we’ve never had this kind of proposal on the Hill before.”

Mullen challenged the NCOs to think of ways to better serve their fellow servicemembers. Keeping servicemembers connected was one example. He said a reserve-component soldier, for example, serves in Iraq or Afghanistan and then comes home.

“You get off a plane and your transition time is zilch: Boom! You are back in Minneapolis, and you are going back to work in two, three weeks,” he said. “You’ve been in 15 months of combat, and you’ve seen things you never thought you would see that again have changed your life forever. Where is your contact with people who have been through what you’ve been through?”

Young servicemembers who separate from the service shortly after leaving a war zone are another example. “They cross that bridge, and they are standing on the other side of that bridge alone without any support mechanisms,” the chairman said. “How do you know they will be okay? How do you know? We owe them connectivity.”

The services track those who get out for 120 days after their separations, but then lose touch. He said the military can and should do a better job of ensuring servicemembers make good transitions to civilian life.

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