Chairman Accepts Award on Behalf of Servicemembers

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

PHILADELPHIA, April 29, 2008 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accepted the Gold Medal of the Union League of Philadelphia here last night on behalf of the men and women of the U.S. military, who he said make America's freedom possible.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told the league members that he was honored and humbled to receive the award, but that the men and women of the armed forces are the real honorees.

"We should remember tonight those who serve around the world, particularly those who serve in harm's way," Mullen said. "It is their service that is the foundation for us as a nation. They make such a difference, and they make all of us proud."

The chairman told the black-tie crowd that, while the world is full of challenges, U.S. servicemembers have risen to surmount them. He told of a recent visit he made to Iraq and the fact that he walked through neighborhoods in Baghdad and northern Iraq. "This is something you couldn't do just weeks earlier," Mullen said. "It is like that in many places in Iraq, and it wasn't that way a year ago."

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, deservedly gets credit for turning the country around, the chairman said. "But the individuals who really get the credit in my book are the soldiers, the Marines, sailors and airmen who are on the streets making that happen," he added. "They're the ones who made the surge succeed. They're the ones that get the credit. They have done it with their blood, with their sacrifices and with the American spirit, which has tied them to those who first served when our country was formed."

Mullen said he spends a lot of his time trying to understand the pressure the ground forces are under. He said he has traveled to visit servicemembers stateside and overseas "to be in touch with what's on the ground," so he can use that input in the decisions he makes or when he recommends courses of action.

Servicemembers are not shy about telling him their feelings, especially when they are in a combat environment, he said. "I treasure that," he told the audience. He said he has seen that troops are under pressure, "but they are performing at an exceptional level."

"They are resilient, and they are proud of what they are doing," he added. "They are seeing themselves succeed in a way they weren't a year ago, and they have a skip in their step."

The chairman said that, although work remains to be done in Iraq and a growing insurgency in Afghanistan isn't going to go away, the military must manage the conflicts in such a way that servicemembers have more time between deployments with their families.

"It is in getting it right for the immediate future that consumes a great deal of my time," he said. "But it is not just the immediate future that I am concerned about, because this war we're in, and the extremists that we are fighting, is going to be around for decades, not for months or years. And we're going to have to stay focused on this."

The United States has to build a military for the future that can handle the unconventional enemies of today and conventional threats that may crop up, the chairman said, and the country cannot do it alone. "We've got to build relationships and partnerships with countries around the world," Mullen said.

During and after World War II, the admiral noted, U.S. leaders understood the need for allies in the struggle against fascism and communism, and the same is true today. "We need those partners. We need those relationships," he said.

The United States must continue to bolster on-going relationships and cultivate emerging relationships with other nations, Mullen said.

"We live in an incredible time, a time of great uncertainty, very unpredictable, and the only way I can see us moving ahead is together -- with allies and partners who have the same objectives in mind," he said.

Mullen stood in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, who received the league's first Gold Medal in 1863. Since Lincoln received the honor at the height of the Civil War, 35 Americans have been so honored, including Army Maj. Gen. George G. Meade in 1866, Secretary of War Elihu Root in 1915, President Calvin Coolidge in 1927, General of the Armies John J. Pershing in 1928, President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1962, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger in 1986, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in 2006.

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