By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 5, 2007 - Just four days after pledging his own commitment to the highest position in military service, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Task Force Marne troops today to administer the oath of re-enlistment to 31 U.S. Army soldiers and prepare them for the challenges that lay ahead in the war on terrorism. "I believe (you are) the best military in the history of the world," Adm. Michael G. Mullen told troops at Camp Victory. "You are in possession of combat experience, combat capability, combat strength to a degree that has never been seen in our armed services."
In five minutes of remarks, Mullen rarely turned his head from the 31 men and women standing at his side.
Placing their decision to re-enlist in the context of U.S. national security, Mullen challenged the soldiers to remember lessons they've learned in the villages of Iraq and apply them to future conflicts.
"We're living in a very challenging world, and in that regard, we're going to need your experience," Mullen told the soldiers. "We need to take that experience and invest it in a way that benefits the future."
The admiral's comments echoed those he made Oct. 1, when he assumed his new role from the outgoing chairman, Marine Gen. Peter Pace. Then Mullen told the crowd at Fort Myer, Va., to remember the valor and sacrifice of the men and women of the armed forces who volunteer to protect their country.
"You are true heroes who, understanding that your missions are demanding, dangerous and often deadly, still raise your right hand with a promise and an oath to continue building on the legacy of service endearing you to the people of this nation," Mullen said.
Despite current strains, the chairman highlighted the role of ground forces in preparing to confront future threats, and stressed the need to maintain their strength. "Fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will one day end," he said. "We must be ready for who and what comes after. That's the promise we've made."
Today at Camp Victory, he congratulated troops on their progress to date in Iraq, especially sizable gains made in recent months. "We can't be overly optimistic here, but certainly based on where we were not many months ago, I really want to commend you," Mullen said. "You really are making a difference."
Iraq is home to "26 million people who've been freed," he said.
They are "looking for an opportunity to live a life where they can raise their children in a stable environment, to a better future," Mullen told the soldiers. "You clearly are on a path to providing that opportunity."
The path has not been easy or without sacrifice, the chairman reminded the crowd. There have been 110 deaths from Task Force Marne so far, he said, "brave, courageous soldiers -- your comrades -- who've given their lives in this cause."
Considered in that light, the decision to re-enlist is more courageous and honorable than ever, Mullen said. "It has been that sacrifice which has made us great as a nation, and it's been a burden that this nation has asked our young to bear" for more than 230 years, he said.
Mullen acknowledged that stresses deployed soldiers face are matched by the strain and sacrifice borne by military families. "We've got to stay focused on not just making it right for the men and women in uniform, but the families who support them," he said.
But it is the combined strength and sacrifice at home and in the towns and villages of Iraq that is enabling U.S. forces to make headway in their mission, Mullen explained. "I look forward to continued success, continued progress, continued great service -- the courage, the bravery, the valor that Task Force Marne has shown," he said.
Later in the day, the chairman traveled to patrol bases Murray and Assassin, part of Multinational Division Center, south of Baghdad, to tour operations and visit troops.
(Tim Kilbride works for Task Force Marne Public Affairs)