WASHINGTON – Adm. Mike Mullen retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday and gave some parting advice for the new guy, Gen. Martin Dempsey. Make friends with the world’s military leaders. Thank your family. Look out for the troops. Laugh at the president’s jokes.
And don’t give up on Pakistan or the Afghanistan war strategy.
“I urged Marty to remember the importance of Pakistan to all of this, to try and do a better job than I did with that vexing and yet vital relationship,” he said.
But Mullen leaves more than that. The military is downsizing two wars, increasing covert counterterrorism operations around the world and facing a budget reckoning in Washington that could set the course for what troops are asked to do for the next decade.
“We can ill afford to lose our edge,” Mullen said. “We have become the best counterinsurgency force in the world, but we have done so at the expense of critical conventional capabilities we necessarily let lapse. We have become the most expeditionary force in our history, but in the process sacrificed some of the basics of garrison leadership and continuity that preserve the health of our all-volunteer force.
"Cuts in defense spending are fair game. We should do our part," he said, but cautioned, "Cut too deeply now, and we will harm, perhaps irreparably, the industrial base from which we must procure the materials of war.”
So, have fun with that, Marty.
Mullen used his chairmanship to keep Americans connected to their military, and in a final call to the nation asked them to recognize returning troops with more than “bands and bunting or yellow ribbon.”
“War has changed them and their loved ones forever, but it has not changed their dreams,” Mullen said. “You can help make those dreams come true. Hire them. Help them buy a home. Get them started on the path to an education. Give them a chance. That’s all they want.”
It was a farewell ceremony, though, and Mullen let loose with the jokes, too.
He knows he’s not losing his memory, he told the incoming chairman.
“In fact, that football game I took Deborah to in 1967,” he quipped. “Navy 19, Army 14. Sorry, Marty.”
His 1968 classmates at the U.S. Naval Academy would say they’re amazed he made it this far.
“Frankly, I don’t blame them,” he said. “I'm wholly amazed.”
Mullen reflected on his four years as chairman, “which as anyone who has ever served on the Joint Staff will tell you is about three years and six months too long.”
He thanked his family’s close friends.
“And to those of you who aren’t the closest to us, well, maybe you should’ve stepped it up a notch. It doesn’t hurt to have friends with access to drones.”
And he urged Dempsey to get aboard ships, but, “He shouldn’t wear one of those ear patches for seasickness. They work OK. They just look silly.”
The president, Mullen said, with Obama sitting next to him, “really likes it when you laugh at his jokes. It just makes the meeting go better.”
“It’s hard to believe it’s over,” Mullen said. “Marty, you’re going to be great.”