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On Friday, Oct. 30, 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen retired as the seventeenth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He served both Presidents Bush and Obama, and under two Secretaries of Defense, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta. For the last four years as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he has taken responsibility for the most serious, stressful and important job of his long career, a career that began at the U.S. Naval Academy over four decades ago.
In 1968, Mike Mullen graduated from the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. According to his own words, he was not among the academic elite at this great institution. Many of his fellow alumni were at the retirement ceremonies last Friday, and shared a laugh with him when he said that he was surprised that he was able to achieve this rank, to be called to this awesome responsibility in service to the country, but that he was no more surprised than his fellow classmates of the class of 1968.
Admiral Mullen is one of us. He calls himself a sailor. He possesses the humility of one who has lived the demands of an adult life honorably, who has reflected on his choices and experiences deeply, and who has measured himself against it all with honesty and clarity. He knew his responsibilities, took them on with conviction and courage, but more importantly, with an abiding sense that his decisions and actions involved young men and women who would be placed in harm’s way, as well as their families.
He loved those young men and women serving in the various branches of the military. He visited them on the front, he visited them in the hospitals where they were recovering from the wounds of war, and he attended the funerals of many, honoring them with not only his presence, but with that of someone else who has been with him through all of those times, his wife, Deborah. He always wears a metal bracelet in honor of one of those who fell in service to the country, one Cpl. Jessica Ellis, an army medic killed by an IED in Iraq.
With his last opportunity to speak to the combined troops, to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and to the American people, he wanted to leave us with a reflection on our own duties toward the troops. He spoke about how war has changed them and their loved ones forever, but not their dreams. That we must do what we can to care for them, to give them jobs, to help them buy homes, and to welcome them back to us with respect, honor and dignity. They have given so much of themselves fighting on our behalf.
He gave words of encouragement to us as well, by reflecting on how when adversity strikes, we bounce back, and it is this that makes us who we are. He spoke, too, about how our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines learned the quality of their bravery in our homes, our schools, and our communities. They took what we gave them and used it well. For this, much thanks is due.
Admiral Mullen showed his wisdom in one more way as well when he acknowledged that he learned his strength, humility, and capacity for concern from the most important person in his life, his wife, Deborah. He praised her for her dedication and work on behalf of military families. Admiral Mullen told the assembled crowd of how a father of one of the fallen Navy Seal Team 6 members who went down in the helicopter in August told him that he had been deeply moved by Deborah's presence, and the sincerity with which she spoke to each one of the family members at Dover Air Force Base when the bodies were returned to us. He said that she made him feel as if he were in the presence of an angel. Deborah Mullen understands more than most the sacrifice and suffering of military families, and she and the Admiral ask us all to remember and care for those families in the time to come as well. Their two sons are currently serving as officers in the U.S. Navy.
As a nation, we thank you, Admiral Mike Mullen, for your long service to us in the U.S. Navy, and for the care and concern, the professional leadership you gave to the nation in your role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Anchors aweigh, Admiral. May you have long years of healthy and pleasant retirement with your wife and family.