By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq, April 22, 2011 - The U.S. military needs to get it right as it transitions out of Iraq, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told soldiers in Baghdad today.
About 47,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, mostly in an "advise and assist" role. With all American troops due to leave by the end of the year, Mullen called on the service members to make sure "we get everything right in this transition."
What they do will give Iraq a chance to have a better future with a military that is under civilian control, and have a force that is "responsive, capable, able to take care of their own people, their own borders and their own security," the chairman said.
The change in Iraq presaged the sea change in the Middle East, Mullen said, and that "adds that much more criticality toward getting it right in Iraq." The Iraqi government and people now have the main job in establishing a peaceful, stable government, but U.S. troops have a support role to play, he added.
Nations around the region are trying to figure out how to put in place all that is necessary to have a democracy, in an area with little or no democratic tradition, the admiral noted. "And Iraq is at the heart of that," he said. "I'm delighted that most of the challenges here now are political," and not military.
The world is unpredictable, the chairman said, noting that strangely, that will be a constant for the future. For example, he said, he had no idea in January that Japan and Libya would be the countries he would be most concerned about in March.
The tempo of deployments will drop, and troops will soon be home twice as long as they are deployed, he said. But given the unpredictability in the world, no one can afford not to be ready to respond at a moment's notice. "We're going to continue to deploy," he said. "We don't necessarily know where."
The United States is looking for a long-term strategic partnership with Iraq, Mullen said. "The details of what that means -- whether there will be trainers here, or what the numbers will be, if any at all – are yet to be worked out," he added.
With the reduction in tempo, soldiers will have more time in garrison, and that will mean a new set of challenges, the admiral said, noting that much of the Army has not spent significant amounts of time at home stations.
"Sergeants first class and below have just been deploying to the fight. Majors and below are just deploying to the fight," he said. "They have no idea what it's like to be in garrison."
Senior officers and noncommissioned officers know what it's like to be in garrison, the admiral said, and they now have the extra responsibility to instruct other service members on what being in garrison is all about, such as how training is accomplished and what the rules of discipline are.
In this era of budgetary constraint, getting the "people" portion of the budget right is most crucial to the long-term health of the force, Mullen said. After almost 10 years of war, he noted, this is the most combat-experienced force in America's history, and it's important for the military to retain that seasoned force.
"If we don't do that, it will be difficult, no matter what our budget is or the stuff we're buying," he said.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
Special Report: Travels With Mullen