Firing Questions at the Nation's Top Military Officer

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, took questions from service members.

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Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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HONOLULU—Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said this week that it is a Pentagon priority to provide two years of rest time for troops who serve in combat zones for one year or 15 months. "But I don't see that happening in the next year or so," he added. "It's going to be beyond that."

Mullen spoke Wednesday at a town hall meeting with marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen, many of whom have served two or more tours in Iraq. They asked the chairman pointed questions about equipment in the combat zone and about their vacation time, too.

One marine wondered why the officers above him were receiving new M-4 rifles but many enlisted grunts doing regular patrolling in Iraq were not (they have the older M-16s). Another pointed out that when he and some other members of his unit replaced their uncomfortable boots with footwear they bought out of pocket, they were threatened with disciplinary action for not wearing standard-issue gear.

Still another soldier asked why he was being charged vacation time when he came back to the United States for his two-week home leave from Iraq. If he were back on a base in the United States, he would get weekends and holidays off, he argued, but in Iraq he works seven days a week.

Mullen, who as chairman of the joint chiefs is the top military officer in the nation, told the troops that he would make inquiries into each of their concerns. He took names and E-mail addresses and assured them that he would personally E-mail them an answer. "I actually will do that," he said.

These meetings are traditionally a time for troops to air their concerns and grievances. And Mullen shared some of his own with the assembled crowd as well. He spoke about visiting Camp Pendleton, a Marine base in California, where troops returned from Iraq in November—and where they will be going back into combat in July as part of a seven-month-on, seven-month-off rotation schedule. "The cumulative effect of that over time is something we have to pay a lot of attention to," Mullen said.

He emphasized, too, the importance of being aware of post-traumatic stress disorder as troops return from deployments.

"We're going to be in this for a while," Mullen told the troops, "Even as the characterization of what 'this' is changes over time."