Adm. Mike Mullen Speaks Out as He Bids Farewell to Forces

Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen is sworn in as the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and takes the oath of office from Marine Gen. Peter Pace during an Armed Forces Hail and Farewell ceremony at Ft. Myer, Va., Oct. 1. (Defense Department photo/Cherie A. Thurlby)

This is the final day of service for Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Adm. Mullen also spoke with National Public Radio as he headed into retirement. In his interview with Steve Inskeep, Mullen reinforced his earlier assertion that Pakistan is backing a terrorist network – the Haqqanis.

“On the Pakistani side of the border. And I am losing American soldiers. The Haqqanis are killing American soldiers. And from that perspective, I think it’s got to be addressed, which is the reason I spoke to it.”

A full copy of Adm. Mullen’s NPR transcript is available HERE.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen receives a tour of Forward Operating Base Assassin in Iraq by Col.Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Oct. 5, 2007. Mullen is on his first tour of the central command area of operations to visit with the leadership and service members assigned to the region. DOD photo by U.S. Navy .

Below is Adm. Mike Mullen’s parting message to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.

To the men, women and families of the armed forces of the United States:

It has been the greatest privilege of my life to serve as your Chairman for the last four years. Everywhere Deborah and I went to see you and your families we walked away humbled by the magnitude of the responsibility you have volunteered to carry and strengthened by the willingness and dignity with which you carry it.

From my first day on the job, I pledged to ensure you had the right strategy, leadership and resources to accomplish your missions. I believe we worked hard to get that right. But you are the ones who turned back the tide of violence in Iraq, made huge strides towards a more secure Afghanistan and defended our Nation’s interests around the globe. Even with all the demands we’ve placed on you, you still look for ways to do even more to help those in need.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the burdens placed on you and your families. Your sacrifices will be forever fixed in my heart, and I am eternally grateful for your service.

Following the Battle of Britain, Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Today, I could use those very words to describe our thoughts of you. We are deeply honored to have served for and with you. May God bless you and your families always.

The Department of Defense has set up a web page bidding “Farewell to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen. It includes a chart showing his travel as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 2011 alone, Mullen traveled to 22 countries and was gone 57 days.

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A Citadel Mom Marks Her Son’s Transition to Army Ranger

Bravo Seniors display their rings Friday afternoon outside the barracks. Photo by Stanley Leary.

One week from today, my son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC). In two weeks, parents of cadets at The Citadel will descend on Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  It is also Ring weekend, the time all cadets look forward to their senior year.

This year is the first year, in the past four, that we will not be in Charleston for Parents’ Weekend.  We are creating new rituals as the family of a graduate and new second lieutenant. I will miss the rhythm of the college school year.  Fortunately, I’ve made some wonderful friends and know we will go to Charleston for visits but our time won’t be spent following the official schedule of events for cadets.

Bravo Company Cadre lead the first year knobs in a set of push-ups at the promotion ceremony. Parents’ Weekend the knobs are promoted from cadet recruits to cadet privates. Photo by Stanley Leary.

I’m already missing the regular information posts of The Citadel.  As the mom of a second lieutenant, I have to rely on calls, emails, or text messages from my son to fill me in on what type of training he is going through.  The Public Affairs Office at Fort Benning does have a lot of information posted, but much of it is geared toward the spouses of soldiers, not family members who are not in the area of the base. To learn the location, time and directions to the graduation next week took a phone call and a few email messages.

The next phase is Ranger School.  My son will report at the end of October. The website for Ranger School is very helpful.  I’ve also read Facebook posts of his classmates who are in the Ranger School class immediately ahead of him. They all know just how challenging this training is.  A few 2011 graduates of The Citadel have mentioned that their schedule in the real Army is tougher than knob (freshman) year.  That is saying a LOT.

Lightening Troop Class 11-005 Recon Mounted STX. Photo courtesy of the class' Facebook page.

In some ways, I feel like the mom of a knob. I get little information from my son.  He is putting in long hours and getting little rest. And he still appreciates care packages of protein based foods.

Unlike knob year, I don’t have the comfort of regular photos being posted to a web site, or parent volunteers to call with questions. In that regard, I am like any other parent of a recent college graduate living away from home and working at a new job . . . until he is deployed.

Military Retirement Provides a Few Surprises for an Airman

Rex Temple trying out his civilian clothes while on vacation visiting a 13th century castle in Savonlinna, Finland, May 2011.

Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple officially retired June 1st  after 28 years in the Air Force. I got to know the airman through his blog and our weekly interviews on WUSF 89.7 during his tour in Afghanistan from May 2009 through April 2010.

Temple said civilian life has brought some unexpected surprises like on his first day not in an Air Force uniform. He wore shorts and a t-shirt.

“It felt rather strange waking up the next day knowing I don’t have to put on this uniform. I don’t have to go to work. What am I going to do with my time?” Temple said.

After a two-week vacation in Finland with his wife, Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, he started back working on his masters degree “doing a lot of research and writing a lot of papers.”

“I’m trying to manage my time appropriately, but at least once a week I have a friend, he has a boat, we go out fishing in Tampa Bay,” Temple said.

Fishing was one of the things outside of his family and his dogs, Charlie and Sam, that he missed while deployed in Afghanistan for a year. A year and a half later, Temple said he’s misses a few things about Afghanistan.

“I miss the camaraderie of my team.” Temple was assigned to an Embedded Training Team that trained Afghan National Army soldiers as well as handling logistics. “I tend to go back and forth because I feel so safe here in the United States and I really cherish the freedoms that we have. And I know what the people what they go through over in Afghanistan and I feel sorry them.”

He’s adjusting to retirement and when asked offered some advice on transitioning from military to civilian life.

Retirement has allowed for a little more time to go fishing. Rex Temple with his friend George Leach after a very successful fishing trip on Tampa Bay, July 2011.

“You have to have a plan on what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it and that involves all your family members,” Temple said. “Part of having that plan is you have to be financially set. Especially now with recovering from a recession, you just can’t walk into a job the next day.”

After almost three decades of military life, Temple has found he is missing a few things like the camaraderie with fellow airmen and he misses “the mission.” He’s now viewing that as a stepping stone to the next part of his life.

Temple admits he didn’t know what to expect in the civilian job market despite taking classes on how to write a resume and prepare for a job interview.

“It was really totally Greek because all I’ve known for 28 years is the military. They’ve told me what to wear, what to do and how to do it,” Temple said. “And now all of a sudden, I’m on my own. So, it was a big learning curve.”

Part of that learning curve included what to include in his resume.

“I think sometimes in the military maybe we’re a little bit humble and we don’t want to broadcast our accomplishments, yet that’s what’s imperative to put in a resume. You have to be able to stand out from your competition if you want to get a job,” Temple said.

So, he revised his resume to include elements like his school supplies drive for Afghan children that he started while deployed and continues. They’ve shipped almost 18,000 pounds of supplies and he’s still speaking to community organizations about the effort.

Private War Contractors Sue over Health Care, Disabilities

A civilian contractor exercises. (Dimitry Kostoukov/AFP) Courtesy of ProPublica.

BY T. CHRISTIAN MILLER

Private contractors injured while working for the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on Monday, claiming that corporations and insurance companies had unfairly denied them medical treatment and disability payments.

The suit, filed in district court in Washington, D.C., claims that private contracting firms and their insurers routinely lied, cheated and threatened injured workers, while ignoring a federal law requiring compensation for such employees. Attorneys for the workers are seeking $2 billion in damages.

The suit is largely based on the Defense Base Act, an obscure law that creates a workers-compensation system for federal contract employees working overseas. Financed by taxpayers, the system was rarely used until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the most privatized conflicts in American history.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians working for federal contractors have been deployed to war zones to deliver mail, cook meals and act as security guards for U.S. soldiers and diplomats. As of June 2011, more than 53,000 civilians have filed claims for injuries in the war zones. Almost 2,500 contract employees have been killed, according to figures kept by the Department of Labor, which oversees the system.

The full ProPublica article is available HERE.

Another take on the lawsuit is available through Veterans Today.com.

Decreasing Deployment Stress – 4 Tips for Military Couples

U.S. Navy Electronics Technician 2nd Class (SW) William Boyd kisses his wife, Marie, before boarding the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), Jan. 2010, at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va. Gunston Hall Sailors were deploying to Haiti to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster response in the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Suits, U.S. Navy/Released)

Military couples have challenges beyond those of typical relationships. That additional stress of multiple deployments and multiple moves can erode a couples’ relationship.

Yet, there are ways to build resiliency in a relationship according to Dr. Kate McGraw, a clinical psychologist with the Defense Centers of Excellence.

McGraw contributed an entry for the DCoE blog: Success before Stress: Keeping Relationships Healthy. Here are her four tips from that column:

  • Ask your partner what they need. Also, you should both be able to identify what you need and how your needs can be met. If you both develop empathy for each other’s needs, than you will both be very satisfied with what you can create together in your relationship.
  • Eliminate all sarcasm, name calling, belittling or other types of verbal and emotional abuse, and make a pact to not tolerate displays of temper such as slamming objects or doors. These behaviors cause significant damage to the trust and safety between you and may lead to physical abuse. If you’re able to say at least five positive comments to every negative one you say to your partner, your relationship will feel much more loving and supportive.
  • Nurture the bond between you. One way is to foster and keep open regular communication about the important things in your life, as well as the small daily matters.
  • Develop a homecoming ritual upon your partner’s return from deployment. This ritual can serve as a line of demarcation for both of you, a dividing point from their being away at war, to being here, at peace.

McGraw added it’s important to take time after returning from a deployment to adjust. “The non-military partner can play an important role in the stress management of the relationship by lovingly encouraging their military partner to seek help if it appears they are experiencing severe post-deployment problems.”

Here’s another DCoE article: Couple Tidbits: Dealing with Conflict.

A Veteran Living with PTSD on Losing Control

Cheyenne Forsythe, an Iraq War veteran, is currently a business student at the University of South Florida.

BY CHEYENNE FORSYTHE

Last week, I was sitting in the office with a psychologist getting treated in a Department of Defense study called Accelerated Resolution Therapy at the University of South Florida. The Doc running the treatment was doing the routine hand movements and I was following along trying to do the best guinea pig impression that I could muster. I know I can’t tell soldiers what to do, if I’m not willing to go through it myself, so I dig in and bare my guts for him.

We go through the normal process and I start describing what happens to me when I lose control of myself and I snap at someone. He’s stunned. He starts telling me that what I experience has been found in brain scans and I should write about it because I have some training in the inner workings of the brain and veterans would appreciate the insight from one of their own. To tell you the truth, it took me a while to actually sit down and get this out. It’s been quite a rocky road to this point.

The loss of control I experience happens at an integral moment when my brain runs into a momentary wall in the communication process. That’s putting it nicely. People who can’t see things my way are at the greatest risk of my loss of control. Most of the time its happened to be the ones that I love the most. So, for a while, I took to protecting them from me by isolating myself in my apartment, which only compounded the overall problem.

The reason why we have the need to isolate ourselves is for the good of our relationships with our loved ones. We know something is different about ourselves but reintegrating becomes a daunting task that most of us choose to avoid for fear of disappointing ourselves and those that we love. We don’t want to go off in a sudden rant, or worse, and give them reason to think differently of us.

Cheyenne Forsythe and his fiance, Joy Finley.

We want to be loved. What we need to understand is that there has been a change in our brain between the higher thinking, communication portion and the reptilian fight or flight portion. There used to be a super highway between the two, where there is now only a single dirt road. When that dirt road gets a little congested our brain stops all traffic and maintains functioning at the lower, easier level of problem solving. This is when I find myself yelling at the top of my lungs or going into auto pilot, stuck in the rigidity of my own perspective or opinion; the old my way or the highway routine. In order to return to living normal lives we’ve got to start constructing a better road.

What helps to alleviate the situation is having someone around who is wise enough to spot the transition. This is where Joy, my fiancé, comes in. She’s really good at spotting the transition and with a simple sentence like, “This is the PTSD talking”, I can see myself getting angry or frustrated at something that doesn’t need that level of intensity. It’s like a light bulb moment.

Our brains have become too used to the fight or flight way of looking at things so we now apply it to everything. We have to educate ourselves and find a way to do the same with our loved ones for the sake of our relationships with them. I know a few people who’ve told me they wish they understood why they were acting the way they were, long before now. A few marriages could’ve been spared the ordeal of divorce if they had just taken the time to understand what was needed to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

One book that touches on the importance of unity in the family when facing PTSD is called, “The War at Home: One Family’s Fight Against PTSD.” I’ve been following the development of the book in a group the author and his wife started on Facebook called, “Military with PTSD.” They’re really decent people. To use boxing analogy, we’ve developed a corner for ourselves. When the fight of everyday life seems to take more out of us than usual, we come together and share some motivating words then get back in the ring. Military as well as family members can join up and see what we all go through in order to gain a little common ground.

We can’t do this on our own. It’s going to take our families, group therapy, medication and one-on-one psychotherapy for many of us to get back some normalcy in our lives. Compared to veterans of previous generations, more of us have a better chance of becoming productive and centered citizens because we know what we’re up against. All it takes is the same level of dedication that got us through Basic Training or Boot Camp. So, get in there and make it happen.

Sunday Is a Day to Honor Gold Star Mothers and Families

Grace Darling Seibold, founder of the American Gold Star Mothers service organization after her son was killed in WWI.

Gold Star Moms are mothers who have lost a child who was serving in the military. Their organization, American Gold Star Mothers, also is a service organization – established by moms who found each other while searching for their missing sons among the WWI wounded veterans who had returned to Washington D.C.

The mothers found each other at a time of great personal and mutual loss  – they reached out to support each other and to help the hospitalized war veterans.

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation recognizing Sunday, Sept. 25 , as Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day.

If you’ve never met a Gold Star Mom – take a moment to view this video. You’ll get a sense of the stuff they’re made of and how each mother works to honor her child who was killed while serving their country.

President Obama’s Gold Star Mother’s and Families Day proclamation:

“Since our nation’s earliest days, the men and women of our armed forces have demonstrated the courage and heroism that have come to define America. Across shores, in deserts, and on city streets around the world, extraordinary Americans have given
their last full measure of devotion defending the freedoms we cherish. Their ultimate sacrifice is one we can never fully repay, and the enormity of the grief their families carry we can never fully know.

“Gold Star mothers and families know the immeasurable cost of fighting for the ideals we believe in, and they know the pride that comes with exemplary service to America. On this day, and every day, we offer them our deep gratitude and respect, and we are inspired by their strength and determination. Through heartbreaking loss, our Gold Star families continue to support one another, serve their communities, and bring comfort to the men and women of our armed forces and their families.

“Our fallen heroes answered their country’s call to duty, sacrificing all they had and all they would ever know. Their families exemplify that same mark of selflessness and patriotism that has sustained our country and will sustain us through trials to come. We honor their sacrifice, and stand with our service members, military families, and Gold Star families as they have stood for us. Today, we reaffirm our promise to care for those left behind, to uphold the ideals for which the fallen gave their lives, and to carry with us their legacy as we work toward a better future.”

Obama called on all government officials to display the U.S. flag over government buildings to acknowledge the day and encouraged the American people to display it and hold appropriate ceremonies “as a public expression of our nation’s sympathy and respect for our Gold Star mothers and families.”

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