American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2010 - Though he never expected he'd have a military career, the nation's highest-ranking military officer said this week, the people he has served with are the reason he stayed in the service.
The chairman has served 46 years since arriving at Annapolis. He credits the people he has served with and the hankering to see the world -- "even though my first assignment was in Vietnam" -- with keeping him in the Navy.
The men and women who aspire to become commissioned officers in the U.S. military must focus on leadership, the chairman said. He told the ROTC students to study leaders, to examine their styles and take what works for them. The military is involved in two wars and maintains guard around the world, he noted, and the only constant they will see upon entering the force is change.
"Leadership is what getting commissioned is all about," he said. "You are coming into the military at an unbelievably complex time in our country and our world. The military is not immune. We've changed dramatically in this past decade, and we will continue to evolve."
The future officers will face tough decisions, and they must have good leadership ability to see them through, Mullen said. "Good leaders step forward and solve tough problems at the right time," he added.
Mullen urged the cadets and midshipmen to keep their options open, and not burn any bridges. "You never know that 10 years down the road you won't have a different view of what that bridge would have looked like had it still been there," he said.
"Ask a thousand questions," he continued. "When you are making big decisions, go to people you respect and get their view. In the end, make them your decisions. Don't make them anyone else's, because you are the one who is going to have to live with them every day."
The military values responsibility and accountability, the chairman said. "From a career advice standpoint, focus on the here and now –- focus on where you are and whatever your assignment is, and it will work out just fine," he said. "Be curious about your next assignment, but don't dwell on it."
The military can guarantee its future if it takes care of its people, Mullen said.
"No matter what our missions are, or where we go, or the stuff that we have, ... in the end it's the people who make the difference," the chairman said. "We're the most combat-hardened force we've been in our history, and we need to take advantage of that and leverage that for a very bright future."
A student asked about a "values disconnect" between the military and American society as a whole. Mullen replied that the military recruits from all across the United States.
"I'm not overly concerned about the values disconnect," he said, but he added that he is concerned that the American people are not connected in other ways. The military is less than 1 percent of the American population, he pointed out, and since the end of the Cold War, bases have been closed and avenues for a connection have dried up.
So the military has to do what it has always done, he said: take in 18 to 24 year olds "and change lives and present opportunity."
"We as a country benefit from that if you stay in or don't," he added.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
Special Report: Travels With Mullen