Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the U.S. armed forces, delivered a message to Tucson's business and community leadership last Friday.

"Take care of those who have sacrificed so much, along with their families," Mullen urged a crowd of more than 700 at the annual luncheon of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities.

Tens of thousands of American military veterans, fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are "going to return to communities across the country," Mullen said. "Their lives have changed forever."

Thousands have suffered physical wounds. "If they have been wounded, the path to their dreams may have changed, but their dreams have not changed," Mullen said.

Hundreds of thousands return with post-traumatic stress. "Everyone in a firefight has suffered post-traumatic stress," Mullen said.

He observed that some American troops have been sent on "their fourth or fifth" year-long plus deployment since 2003. "They have been gone more than they have been home," Mullen said. "They have borne this burden tremendously well, and have done exactly what the United States of America have asked them to do, and without questioning.

"We owe as a country an enormous debt," Mullen said.

Mullen recognizes the difficult economic climate. "I have traveled to some pretty tough places in recent months," he said. The admiral acknowledged Tucson's commitment to the military, which is "very evident in the enthusiasm of local leaders who support our men and women who serve." He described Tucson as "a community of great support," one of many across America.

Support must extend beyond those who serve directly, the admiral continued.

Families are "as much a part of our readiness as anything else we do," Mullen said. "In a time of change, their lives have changed." They, too, endure post-traumatic stress when a loved one comes home.

Returning veterans and their families need education, employment, physical healing and psychological support.

"We're loath to raise our hand and say 'I need help,'" Mullen said. There is a stigma about it. The suicide rate among returning military, and among the populace, is "a national challenge. … We must recognize we have a problem, and then we have to attack it." He asked for support, and ideas. Mullen has attempted to eliminate "enormous duplication" within the armed forces concerning suicide. He wants to identify the best practices for its prevention. "The longer you wait to impact on post-traumatic stress with an individual, the more severe the outcomes," Mullen said. "We have an awful long way to go."

From Mullen's perspective, the plight and volume of homeless veterans is "a national disaster." He sees his own peers from Vietnam sleeping on the streets in Washington. The number of women veterans who are homeless has risen dramatically, and "they're showing up with the kids. We don't understand what that means."

Vietnam veterans "want to help our combat veterans from these wars," Mullen said. They are able to make "the connection those of you who have not been in combat cannot make." There is "a tremendous need," and there must be "a willingness to reach out."

One Vietnam War veteran, sharing part of his own struggle, offered his services to Mullen before the crowd Friday, and the admiral accepted.

Mullen is asked why he's taking the cause of returning veterans and their families to the American public. For one thing, "I can." Beyond that, it is "essentially about recruiting for our military." He wants veterans to "come home, and tell great stories about our military."

No need for draft, chiefs chair says

America does not need to reinstitute the military draft, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen said Friday in Tucson.

The Vietnam War veteran, in the military for 42 years – he turned 64 on Monday – said the modern military is "the best military we've ever had, and I've been in myself. I would not trade the level of professional excellence we have today for a draft."

There are "challenges associated with not having a draft," he acknowledged. Fewer than 1 percent of Americans are serving. They are "disconnected from most Americans."

There are nearly 2.2 million in uniform, and they "serve exquisitely," he said.

"I feel proud to serve with them, and I feel privileged to represent them," the admiral said.

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