Joint Chiefs Chairman Visits Fort Riley
October 25, 2007
By Laura Stroda
FORT RILEY, Kan. (Army News Service, Oct. 25, 2007) -- Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was at Fort Riley, Kan., Oct. 24 to hear what challenges and struggles face Soldiers and Family members today.
During Adm. Mullen's visit to the post, he saw transition team training, toured the hospital and Warrior Transition Unit and met with Soldiers in his first stateside town hall meeting since becoming chairman Oct. 1.
But he said his main purpose was just to "get a feel" for what's on the minds of Soldiers and their Families. And that was clear as he strolled around the base, shaking hands, passing out coins and taking a genuine interest in the story behind each Soldier.
Sgt. Dustin Teets, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, has been in Fort Riley's Warrior Transition Unit since Aug. 30 with cracked and bulging discs in his back, among other problems. He and his 9-months-pregnant wife, Cassandra, said they enjoyed their brief visit with Adm. Mullen and that he seemed to truly care about what Soldiers had to say.
"He told me that he actually has some back problems himself, so he knew where I was coming from," Teets said.
Standing up the relatively new Warrior Transition Units is a priority for the chairman. He said Maj. Gen. Durbin and the post and hospital leadership seem to have the "right focus" when it comes to taking care of Soldiers in the WTU.
Adm. Mullen said he has a colonel assigned specifically to the issue as the Warrior Transition Units stand up and that "we've got to make sure we do this right for these people who have sacrificed so much."
Doing so means helping the Soldier through his or her rehabilitation and then making sure that Soldier remains well taken care of once they fall under care of the Veterans Administration.
In the next several months, Adm. Mullen said additional factions will be added to Warrior Transition Units to streamline a Soldier's care.
"(It) will bring one-stop shopping for all the requirements that an injured soldier has to go through -- to include family readiness groups and a representative from the VA -- so that they don't have to move from one place to another," he said.
Adm. Mullen added that some of the concerns Soldiers in Fort Riley's WTU had were the ability to get promoted after being injured and the length of time it takes to go through the medical board.
"Those are pretty common concerns and that's the reason we're standing the unit up," he said.
<b>Deployments Strain Forces</b>
Longer and more frequent deployments are an issue Army-wide, but the strain is prevalent on Fort Riley with three brigades and other security forces deployed. The majority of sergeants and staff sergeants at the town hall meeting had been deployed at least once and most had made two to three trips to a combat zone.
Captains who met with Adm. Mullen during lunch talked about bringing more Soldiers into the deployment rotations to ease some of the stress on Soldiers looking at their fourth or fifth deployment in support of the war on terror.
Adm. Mullen said that while the current limits on deployments -- 15 months overseas and 12 months at home station -- are a necessity right now, that can't be the norm.
"How long we'll be able to sustain something like that and what our rotation will be will be tied greatly to conditions on the ground on Iraq and Afghanistan through next summer," he said.
<b>Transition Teams are the 'way out'</b>
During his morning tour of Camp Funston, Adm. Mullen met with 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, commander Col. Jeff Ingram and Soldiers and Airmen training to deploy as part of transition teams. Fort Riley is the home of training for all Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen who deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan to advise national security forces in those countries.
"These teams are really the answer for us to getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan," Adm. Mullen said, adding that the military solution can only work as long as political and economic conditions improve along with the security climate.
Lt. Col. Geoff Ellerson, who will deploy to Iraq in about a week, agreed with Adm. Mullen about the importance of the transition teams. Ellerson volunteered to be an adviser and brought several other Soldiers with him from Fort Benning, Ga., for the mission.
"The quicker we can get them to stand up their own security, the quicker we can get out of there obviously," Lt. Col. Ellerson said.
Adm. Mullen got a taste of the cultural training that advisers go through during their 60-day training cycle at Fort Riley. He saw the computer language lab and drank chai tea while sitting in on a mock leaders meeting between advisers and their Iraqi counterparts. He said he recently went through the Defense Language Institute and was impressed at the technology and cultural integration, noting that Fort Riley was doing much of the same thing on a smaller scale.
Before coming to Fort Riley, he also visited Iraq; Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and Fort Sill, Okla.
Adm. Mullen was sworn in Oct. 1 as the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He serves as the principal military advisor to the president, secretary of Defense, National Security Council and Homeland Security Council.
(Laura Stroda writes for the Fort Riley Post newspaper.)