By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 26, 2008 - Americans can be proud of the men and women in uniform and must remember the sacrifices military personnel have made, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told television morning shows today. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also said there has been dramatic progress in Iraq, but that any withdrawal of American troops remains rooted in the actions on the ground.
Mullen spoke with NBC, CBS, CNN and FOX news networks from the Pentagon. The highest-ranking member of the U.S. military said morale among the troops is high and they are proud of the work they are doing.
"They are the best troops I've ever been around and I have almost 40 years of service," Mullen said. "They are serving a noble cause, and serving it exceptionally well."
Memorial Day is a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but it should also be a day to remember and help those wounded in service to America, Mullen said.
Thousands of American servicemembers have been wounded in the war on terror and have returned home, he noted.
"We need to reach out as a country take care of them, take care of their families," he said. "We have the resources and to do it in a way that recognizes their great sacrifices for our country."
In addition to the young men and women lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen personally remembers uncles who served in World War Two and classmates from high school and the Naval Academy who died in Vietnam.
He urged Americans that if they see Americans in uniform, "simply go up and say thank you. It means a lot."
The morning anchors asked Mullen about conditions in Iraq. The past week saw the lowest number of incidents in the country since 2004, according to Defense officials.
"Things are better in Iraq, and it's principally because the troops have performed so well in the surge," he said. "We're at a point now where they've created security so the politicians can move forward, and that's happened. I'm modestly optimistic right now."
The chairman stressed that any further withdrawal of American troops after July will only take place if conditions on the ground merit it.
Al-Qaida in Iraq's capabilities have been significantly degraded. But the terrorists "remain a very lethal enemy, very dangerous and they are certainly not gone," Mullen said. "But we've had them on the run now for the better part of several months and we will continue to press."
Iraqi military operations in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul have been going very well, the chairman said. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the operations against criminals and Special Groups in Shiia areas and al-Qaida.
The Iraqi troops have done well, Mullen said. "They may have turned a corner in that regard," he said. "They've executed some good operations so I'm a little bit more optimistic than I was a year ago.
"The prime minister himself clearly has generated political support that he didn't have before," he added. "He's taken charge of his military – they are more successful."
Iran is still a troublemaker in the Middle East, Mullen said. The United States has to use all elements of national power – economic, financial, diplomatic and political, as well as military.
"I think we need to bring pressure on the Iranians to change their behavior in that part of the world," he said.
Mullen has visited Iraq and Afghanistan a number of times and met with military personnel from all levels. He said troop morale is high.
"They know they are on important missions and they are performing exceptionally well," he said.