WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 23, 2009) -- As operations in Iraq and Afghanistan change over the next few years, the National Guard should not be allowed to revert back to being simply a strategic reserve, said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mullen, speaking to an audience at the National Guard's Joint Senior Leadership Conference here Nov. 19, referred to the dramatic changes undergone by the Guard since 2001, as it transformed from a strategic reserve to an operational force.

"Without leadership, we will snap back - in too many areas - to the way it was," he said. "So we have to look to the future and lead to the future, taking advantage of who we are, what we've become and what we think those challenges (in the future) will be."

Mullen said he's considering how the military's force structure should look after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I've started to ask the question -- well, what's after Iraq and Afghanistan'" said Mullen. "What does the force look like' How do we make sure that the lessons that we've learned, the best combat force we have ever fielded ... how do we make sure we retain the right individuals, how do we train them' How do we educate them' And what does it look like, and particularly on the Guard side, what does it look like in the future'"

Mullen said he foresees some sort of strategic reserve, but that the operational structure needs to be there as well.

"I believe we should have some level of strategic reserve," he said. "And yet, we have to have an operational response that keeps that strategic reserve healthy, tied to a training regimen and a preparation regimen that takes advantage of who we are and who we've become in these two wars and looks to a future that leverages that in preparation for what might be coming down the road."

That does not mean a return to how things were before 2001, he said, "The only thing I would caution against is, as we look to a future ... where the deployments aren't as high as they are right now, the one thing I don't want to do is ... reset to 2000," he said.

Mullen said that the transition in the Guard has been "absolutely spectacular."
"I've seen an awful lot of troops in theater ... who ... unless somebody told me they were in the Guard or the Reserve or active, I couldn't tell because in the fight, everybody is the same: side by side, shoulder to shoulder and making such a difference."

Mullen said that maintaining that high level of readiness in the future comes down to leadership.

"Leading in a time of change - if you've spent any time in leadership - is the hardest kind of leadership there is," he said. "And it is leadership that has been very well executed here and will need to be in the future."