MINOT AIR FORCE BASE The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said continued improved conditions in Iraq have created the flexibility to allow President Obama to authorize sending up to 17,000 more military members to Afghanistan.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen visited Minot Air Force Base Wednesday.
Mullen, the nation's top military person, spoke to airmen filling a base hangar and then held a news conference in the Jimmy Doolittle Center on base before he toured mission-related facilities. His wife, Deborah, who accompanied him to Minot AFB, visited family-related facilities on base.
Michael Linnell/MDN •
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, fields questions from the media during a press conference at the Jimmy Doolittle Center Wednesday at Minot Air Force Base. Mullen visited various aspects of the base during his day-long stay at the base.
Mullen's visit to the Minot base follows a recent visit by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Swartz. They visited the base Dec. 1.
Mullen, in his speech to airmen, said the shift in emphasis now is from Iraq to Afghanistan. He said the president has directed a strategic review of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is to be released in a month. He said a review of Iraq also is under way.
Mullen said conditions are continuing to improve in Iraq and that Iraq is taking more and more responsibility for its country. He said the recent elections are a great example.
Mullen, who visited with the senior Iraqi minister Tuesday, said they are very proud of what they have done.
"And rightly so. It's changed dramatically in the last couple years so as conditions permit, I would certainly expect and hope we can continue to draw down but he said that's not his decision," he said.
He said he sees the role of the Air Force in the mission in Afghanistan as providing a tremendous amount of support to the forces on the ground.
Mullen said he has never been to Minot AFB or North Dakota before. He said he actually came to Minot AFB because he was mentored by former chief of staff of the Air Force Gen. John Jumper, who arrived at the Minot base a few years ago at about this same time of year.
But Mullen said he also "really wants to find out about what makes the place tick."
"I want to understand more about the mission the specifics of the mission. We've had significant challenges over the last year or so in the Air Force with the nuclear enterprise," Mullen said before his tour of facilities. He said he was anxious to see and hear of the improvements.
Minot AFB was in the national limelight when a B-52 bomber from Barksdale AFB, La., was mistakenly loaded with nuclear weapons at the Minot base and flown to Louisiana.
He said he also was at the base "to encourage those who are here to recognize those challenges and hold themselves accountable for those challenges and problems, and to move forward and fix them."
"But part of my responsibility is for the entire military, so spending time with airmen here and spending time at Minot will be to my advantage to understand what we're asking our people to do," Mullen said.
The Air Force is setting up a new nuclear command to oversee the nuclear enterprise. Mullen declined to elaborate on the new nuclear command, Global Strike Command, and the selection of a base for its headquarters. Minot AFB is one of six bases vying for the new command. Mullen said he's sure wherever the headquarters will be that it will be a great spot, but it is an Air Force decision. The chosen site will be announced in June, he said.
In regard to the families of the men and women who have lost their lives in the war on terror, Mullen said:
"First of all, I would offer my sympathies and thoughts and prayers to any family that has paid the ultimate price."
Mullen said he spends a significant amount of his time with families and spouses of the fallen. "The message I try to always give is I promise that we absolutely never will forget. That sacrifice is vital, special and that we will never forget those who sacrifice so much," he said.
In his speech to airmen, Mullen said he thinks the global financial crisis will create instability in places throughout the world, some of which we might anticipate and some of which we won't.
"So we need to be mindful of that that it's very challenging global as well. I do try to pay attention to the military members and their families with respect to this," he said.
He said there's also a positive side for the military during difficult financial times. He said both the military's retention and recruiting is up.
"We're seeing that across all our services," he said.
Mullen told the airmen that every one of them performs a mission that makes a difference and that they are serving the world in an extraordinary time.
He told them this is the best military that he's been associated with in his almost 44 years of wearing the uniform.
"They're the heart and soul of it, they're the now of the United States Air Force and they're the future of the United States Air Force and I'm greatly dependent on them to lead, advance themselves, continue to improve and carry out the missions as each and everyone of them are and will continue into the future," he said at the news conference.
In regard to closing Guantanamo Bay, often referred to as "Gitmo" and what will happen to the detainees there, Mullen said, "That is a decision for the president of the United States. He's made the decision to close it in 12 months. There's an awful lot of work that's going on to figure out how to do that."
He said that clearly, one of the challenges will be what to do with the more than 200 detainees.
After his speech to the airmen, Mullen invited anyone who wished to receive one of his JCS chairman memorabilia coins. About 750 coins were handed out.
"This has been a great year for Minot Air Force Base in terms of not only having the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here but also the secretary of defense, Secretary Gates, as well as the chief of staff of the Air Force General Swartz," said Gov. John Hoeven, who attended.
"This is a tremendous Air Force base we are so proud of the men and women that work here every day and this is an opportunity not only for Admiral Mullen to see the base but to see these outstanding airmen that are doing such an incredible job for our country," he said.
"In the history of Minot Air Force Base we've not had visits of the secretary of defense and now so closely followed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. "This is really an honor for this base and I think places an exclamation mark behind the national importance of this military structure."
Pete Hankla, vice chairman of Task Force 21, Minot's base retention and new mission committee, said on behalf of the committee and the Minot community they are honored to have Mullen visit the base and the "two excellent wings that we have the 5th Bomb Wing and the 91st Missile Wing."
"We are confident after listening to Admiral Mullen speak that he has a strong, strong understanding and belief in the nuclear enterprise that the Air Force has to bring to the fight. And after today's visit when each of the airmen has the opportunity to learn from them and what they can bring to the fight that he is as impressed with our community as with the base," Hankla said.
Hankla said hopefully that will reflect positively when there are some major decisions being made.