During a two-day visit to Iraq, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, awarded joint service medals to four service members and a civilian. He also administered the oath of reenlistment to eight Soldiers in the Al Faw Palace on Camp Victory, April 22.

Mullen met with service members and civilians around Iraq to address concerns and answer questions. He also met with U.S. and Iraqi leaders to obtain updates on the mission.

Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs a very special treat to be here with you today,Aca,!A? Mullen said to those assembled.

During his speech in the palace rotunda, Mullen acknowledged that the mission and the personnel carrying out the mission are more important and tougher now than it was when the war first started in 2003.

Placing the Iraqis in charge of their own security and their destiny is what this mission is all about, he said. Aca,!A"I am extremely grateful for your time here and your focus on the mission.Aca,!A?

Mullen also spoke of the changes in the military, noting that the U.S. military is the best military that has ever existed because of the constant improvement of equipment, education, and recruitment.

Aca,!A"We have the best of the best and we retain the best of who we are,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We have a solid-rock military and will remain as the most combat effective force we have ever been.Aca,!A?

Following his meet-and-greet with the troops, Mullen addressed the media in a press conference. The questions ranged from the current Libya conflict and response to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-SadrAca,!a,,cs statement and the in-depth U.S. presence in Iraq.

In his short speech, Mullen said he met with Prime Minister al-Maliki and Minister al-Kader and spoke of IraqAca,!a,,cs current status as a result of the rising conflicts within the region.

Aca,!A"There is no denying that this vastly improved security has permitted Iraq and Iraqi citizens the time and space they needed to develop a burgeoning democratic institution, he said.

Based on his assessment of the Iraqi security forces, Mullen remains convinced that the Iraqis are defending their country and their people very well.

Aca,!A"The U.S. military will remain committed to helping the ISF improve their readiness,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We will also continue to help our State Department as it now assumes the mantle of leadership in this relationship.Aca,!A?

Mullen stated that there are no plans nor has there been any request from the Iraqi government for any residual U.S. force presence beyond 2011.

Aca,!A"Gen. Austin is on a plan right now to end the mission based on the current strategic framework agreement, which was signed a few years ago,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"Late this summer we will see the pace and scope of the drawdown reach its most aggressive level.Aca,!A?

Mullen went on to clarify the U.S. stance on its future in Iraq.

Aca,!A"Should the Iraqi government have the desire to discuss the potential for some U.S. troops to stay, I am certain my government will welcome that dialogue,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"But it needs to start soon, very soon, should there be any chances of avoiding irrevocable logistics and operational decisions we must make in the coming weeks.Aca,!A?

Aca,!A"We desire truly strategic partnership with Iraq, one that last a very long time into the future,Aca,!A? Mullen said. Aca,!A"That partnership wonAca,!a,,ct end with our departure but it must certainly begin with keeping our promises.Aca,!A?