Mullen Encouraged By Midwest 'Conversation'

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

CLEVELAND, Aug. 27, 2010 - As Navy Adm. Mike Mullen concluded another installment of his "Conversation with the Country" tour here today, he said he's energized by how eager community and business leaders are to "re-connect" with veterans.

"I have really been encouraged by the positive response over the past three days," the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a news conference. "It validates the sea of good will which is out there."

Mullen visited in Cleveland today, Detroit yesterday and Chicago on Aug. 25. Earlier this summer, he traveled to Columbia University in New York, as well as to Pittsburgh and Morgantown, W.Va.

This week, the nation's top military officer met with business executives, and academic and community leaders, and college students. At each venue, he carried the same message: Reach out the nation's veterans and help them integrate into their local communities. Veterans are a "remarkable" investment, he said.

"Veterans have an enormous amount of potential and an enormous amount to offer," Mullen said at the Union Club of Cleveland today. "I believe [veterans] are a group of people who have great promise."

Veterans offer a mixture of skills, loyalty, professionalism, education and life experience unmatched by most Americans, he said. Most veterans transitioning out of the military still are very young, mostly in their mid-20s, he added, noting that they have a lot of years left to make a difference for their communities.

"I look to business leaders to see how to take advantage of this great pool of talent," he said. "These young men and women are extraordinary people who offer a great deal of potential."

Mullen encouraged leaders to brainstorm on ways to mentor veterans who are bringing their skills and experience to their communities. Those ways, he suggested, might include a sort of veteran intern program. Even if employers don't have the means to hire, Mullen said, they certainly can take veterans under their wings and help them in their transition back to civilian life. And because an approach that would work in one community may not work in another, Mullen added, only the people in any given community can know what will work based on the local situation.

The military also stands to benefit in its recruiting efforts as veterans return to their communities, Mullen noted, as positive experiences transitioning veterans have could be encouraging for someone thinking about joining.

"If we get this right, the veterans become my recruiting command," he said. "The families become my recruiting command, because they tell great stories and young people hear them and make the decision to come into the military.

"That's one of the reasons this is so important," he added. "If we don't do this well, the opposite is true."

Mullen said he is confident communities will come through for their veterans, and he called for community leaders to address their returning veterans' needs and challenges.

"There certainly is a strong desire, passion and appetite locally in communities I've visited to do everything to get this right," he said. "I hope in future months we can turn this from ideas to execution."

It's the nation's responsibility to take care for those who serve and sacrifice, he said.

"This is a significant priority for me," the admiral said. "In the end, there's a powerful message here about how we take care of our people. There's a powerful message that gets told in a very positive way if we get this right in communities throughout the country, which, in the long run, has a pretty significant impact on our recruiting effort."

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