Admiral Michael G. Mullen

Military Farewell Retirement Address

delivered 30 September 2011, Fort Myer, Virginia

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Secretary Panetta, General Dempsey, distinguished guests, including some of my counterparts who -- from around the world that I've worked so hard with, many of -- many of whom have become great friends -- General Makarov from Russia, General Richards from the U.K., General [sic; Admiral] Guillaud from France, General Bartels from Denmark -- family and friends, men and women, and families of the United States armed forces, thank you and good morning.

Deb and I are humbled by your presence and delighted by the chance to share this special day with you. For us, it doesn't just cap off a four-year stint on the Joint Staff -- which, as anyone who has ever served on the Joint Staff will tell you is about three years and six months too long -- it also marks the culmination of our 43 years together in the United States Navy.

I walked through gate one at the Naval Academy in the summer of 1964, took a young, pretty California girl to the Army-Navy game in 1967, famously struggled to graduate a year later, and then asked that girl to marry me. She actually had a few objections, and after hearing them I thought: Well, maybe I wouldn't marry me either. But once again, I had some luck, and she did.

And Deborah, impossible would it be for me to convey to you the depth of my love or the full measure of my admiration. You complete me in ways I have only recently come to understand. If I'm wiser, it is for your counsel. If I'm gentler, it is for your softening. If I am stronger, it is for your courage.

The father of one of the Navy SEALs killed on that horrible day last August wrote to me of your tenderness and kindness when you grieved with him at Dover Air Force Base. "I do believe," he wrote, "that she is perhaps an angel." You've always been my angel, always on my shoulder, and I love you more than you can know.

And like that gentleman, I, too, am a proud Navy father -- actually, I'm a proud Navy grandfather now, and I have the bibs and diapers to prove it. My sons, Jack and Michael, as has been mentioned, serve this nation in uniform -- one in naval aviation, and the other in surface warfare. No father could be more proud, and I love you, boys. Thanks for being there for me and your mom, for enduring the long separations, for keeping me if not exactly sane, then at least well-grounded. You've grown into the best of men and the finest of naval officers, and I look forward with great eagerness to watching your careers unfold.

As for my career, I know my mom would be proud and my dad would have been thrilled. And I think if you ask any of my classmates down there from the great class of '68, they'd tell you they've been wholly amazed by my success. Frankly, I don't blame them. I'm wholly amazed.

I can't tell you the number of nights in the last four years I've woken up and thought: That's a really important issue; I should call the chairman. And then I realize, holy cow, that's me. But thanks for being here, classmates, all.

I could thank thousands of others here today -- mentors, friends, colleagues and family -- people who had an enormous influence on me and Deborah, people who make possible every success we've known and made lighter heavy hardship we've weathered. I won't do that. And it's not because I'm losing my memory. In fact, that football game I took Deborah to in 1967: Navy, 19; Army, 14. Sorry, Marty.

No, I won't do it, because any attempt at a proper show of gratitude would only result in remarks too brief to recognize their contributions to our lives, and too long for the audience to endure. Those closest to us know who they are and what they've done for us. They know we love them and that we are indebted to them. To all of you from both of us, thank you.

And to those of you who aren't the closest to us, well, maybe you should have stepped it up a notch. It doesn't hurt to have friends with access to drones.

Now, I've been asked by many people, even some reporters, what advice I was giving General Dempsey, what pearls of wisdom I was leaving with him as he prepared to step into this job. I've been reticent to reveal any of that, to be honest. I mean, a big part of the job is discretion. It's keeping private the counsel you give our nation's top leaders. I've always taken that responsibility very seriously, always considered that a low profile was best -- sort of like my hero George Marshall.

I said as much to David Letterman on his show, and it's all on my Facebook page if you want to see it. To be fair, the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is often misunderstood and more than a little confusing. I know because when I tweet, people tweet back and go, who are you anyway?

I was at a dinner party a couple of years ago when a woman approached and asked me what I did in the military. Not wishing to make a whole thing of it, I told her I work in the Pentagon. She kept pressing for details until I finally just admitted, not without a little pride, that I'm the Joint Chief's Chairman. Oh, she said, her eyes suddenly downcast. I guess I thought with all those medals and stars you were somebody important. But I am, I stressed. I'm the President's top military adviser. Her face turned ashen, her eyes got big. Clearly, she was embarrassed. Oh my goodness, General Petraeus, I'm so sorry. I just didn't recognize you.

Dave is here today now as the director of the CIA. Thanks, Dave, I owe you one.

But look, if you really want to know what I told Marty, it's pretty simple. I told him to remember that he isn't just the President's adviser; he is the personal representative of the 2.2 million men and women who make up our armed forces and their families. I told him he had a bully pulpit in this job and that he should use it to voice their needs and their concerns and their accomplishments. They won't ask him for that help, but they will need it. They won't ask him for anything more than his leadership, and sometimes, try as he might, he will believe that he has fallen far short.

I told him he would never be more proud than when he stood amongst the ranks of troops from other services and saw that they shared the same professionalism, the same dogged pride and the same determination to win that I, as a Sailor, saw in his soldiers.

I told Marty he would love going to sea on one of our ships and that he should seek out the earliest opportunity to do so, but that he shouldn't wear one of those ear patches for seasickness. They work okay. They just don't look very good.

I told him his fellow chiefs of defense from nations big and small are really the only other people in the world who have any idea what sort of pressure he's under. He will find them sources of immeasurable wisdom and clarity and support. Same goes for the chiefs and our combatant commanders, who, I have to say, are the best team of leaders with whom I have ever served. To the degree we are truly a joint force, it's because of them and their selflessness.

I told him the President will listen to him because that's the President's way. He seeks counsel, he appreciates candor -- except for certain delicate matters concerning the Chicago White Sox. And he really likes it when you laugh at his jokes, and it makes the meeting go better.

I've had every opportunity to offer my views to the President. All of my advice has been heard. A military man or woman can ask for nothing more of their civilian leaders, and they should expect nothing less.

President Obama made it clear from the beginning that he valued military counsel and that protecting the American people was his top priority. And he's made good on both promises. Bin Laden is dead; Awlaki is dead; al-Qaida is a much-diminished network; we are ending the war in Iraq, and our troops and their families have no stronger advocates for their well-being than he and the First Lady, the Vice President and Dr. Biden.

They have, like President and Mrs. Bush before them, devoted an extraordinary amount of their time and personal energy to make sure our men and women have the support they need. Both in the fight and here at home, I consider myself privileged to have served them all, and I appreciate their confidence in me.

Speaking of the fights we're in, I told Marty his biggest challenge is going to be Afghanistan, in seeing this critical transition through to its completion, in making sure the security gains we've made are not squandered by the scourge of corruption or the lack of good governance that still plagues the country. Our strategy is the right one. We just must keep executing it.

I urged Marty to remember the importance of Pakistan to all of this, to try and do a better job than I did with that vexing and yet vital relationship. I continue to believe that there is no solution in the region without Pakistan and no stable future in the region without a partnership.

Not surprisingly, I told Marty that looming budget battles will dominate his days, that he couldn't have a better or more accomplished partner in those battles than Secretary Panetta.

And Mr. Secretary, our time together has been short in days but long on substance. And I consider myself fortunate to have had this opportunity to serve you and to learn from you as I did under Secretary Gates, another extraordinary man I consider a good friend and a mentor. Thank you for your leadership and for the trust you placed in me. It's exceedingly clear to me that you care deeply about our men and women in uniform and that you will work with might and main to ensure they and their families remain foremost in mind as we grapple with the difficult budget decisions ahead.

And first among those decisions is what kind of military the American people deserve over the next 20 to 30 years. And when I look at the effect that a decade of war has had on us and our people, when I consider the looming threats posed by Iran and North Korea, when I shudder at the enormity of the challenges in cyberspace, or ponder the types of military capabilities China races to the field, I become more convinced than ever that as a nation, we can ill afford to lose our edge. We've become the best counterinsurgency force in the world, but we've done so at the expense of conventional capabilities we necessarily let lapse. We've become the most expeditionary force in our history, but in the process sacrificed some of the basics of garrison leadership and continuity that preserve the health of the all-volunteer force.

Cuts in defense spending are fair game, and we should do our part. But cut too deeply and we will burn the very blanket of protection we've been charged to provide our fellow citizens. Cut too deeply now and we will harm, perhaps irreparably, the industrial base from which we procure the materials of war.

And finally, I told Marty to consider this job a marathon, not a sprint; that time is both his best friend and his worst enemy. I never seem to have enough of it to do the things I wanted, and it's hard to believe it's over.

But Marty, you're going to be great. You're absolutely the right person for this job -- a combat-proven leader who cares about all of us. And with Deanie at your side, the two of you are the right team for these times. And Deborah and I wish you all the best.

And if I may, I'd like to also extend personal wishes from Deborah to our military families. The words that follow are few, but they are hers, and I quote:

Nothing can be more trying at times than life in the military -- the deployments, the stress, the uncertainty and the fear. But then, nothing born from ease and comfort can ever foster the pride and the resilience that military families exude every day. It has been my honor, my deep honor, to be a military spouse and a Navy wife and to know so many others who would wait and worry and work so hard. Thank you for your quiet sacrifice and for empowering me to represent your concerns. It's been the greatest privilege. I will miss the life, and I will miss all of you. Deborah.

For my part, I have only one last thing to say, and it's to my fellow citizens: The men and women of your armed forces are the best we've ever known. They believe in what they are doing. And all I ask is that you continue to believe in them. Continue to look for ways to reach out to them and to their families, to watch over them in what I call this sea of good will that I know exists in the country. War has changed them and their loved ones forever, but it has not changed their dreams, and you can help make those dreams come true. Hire them, help them -- help them buy a home, get them started on a path to an education. Give them a chance; that's all they want.

And I know it's tough to do because you, too, are struggling and America is struggling, and the wars you sent these young men and women to fight aren't exactly foremost on everyone's minds. But they fought them for you. They're still fighting them for you. And that is very much foremost on their minds.

What makes this country so special is not our accomplishments; it's how we bounce back from adversity, it's how we beat back our fears, it's the way we soldier through disappointment and trial. These are the hallmarks of a great people.

And we talk about the resilience of our troops and their families as if it is something apart from the rest of society. It isn't, or at least it shouldn't be. Where do you think those troops learn to be so brave? In your homes, in your schools, in your communities.

Welcome them back to those places not only with bands and bunting or yellow ribbons, but with the solemn recognition that they have done your bidding. They have represented you well. They have carried the best of you and of this country into battle. They have done things and seen things and bear things in their souls that you cannot know.

Help them through their trials, be tolerant of them and each other. Give them a chance, and together we will prove the greatness that is America.

God bless you all. God bless our troops and their families.

And God bless our great country.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

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