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Samantha L. Quigley - American Forces Press Service
An endeavor that began about a month ago comes to fruition today with the airing of the first virtual town hall meeting in which the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff answers questions posed online by servicemembers and the public.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen fielded four questions from servicemembers and other parties interested in military issues during the "Ask the Chairman" event. The questions were submitted online via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, with the goal of providing people a forum to ask questions or offer insights and get direct feedback.
"I actually look forward ... to be able to answer questions from around the world," Mullen told the Pentagon Channel's host of the program, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Krauss. "It's an opportunity to connect in a way that I haven't had before, so I'm excited about it."
Mullen's first question, a YouTube submission, came from an Army captain with two Iraq tours under his belt. He wondered if lessons learned in Iraq are being applied in Afghanistan.
"As we shift our main effort from Iraq to Afghanistan, which we're doing right now, we have to be careful about the lessons that we apply. Clearly the counterinsurgency lessons do apply," Mullen said. "We need to be in Afghanistan in what I call the clear, hold, and build [posture]."
The Afghanistan campaign is different from that in Iraq, though, Mullen said. "We need very much to focus on the people," he added. "We ... have to be patient, get to know the people. It's going to take some time."
It's also crucial for the Defense Department to work with its civilian counterparts in the State Department, as well as other U.S. departments and agencies and those around the world, Mullen said.
Another YouTube question may offer an answer to getting to know the Afghan people better. From Arizona State University, the Consortium for Strategic Communications is working in communications, political science, and religious studies to achieve a greater understanding of Mideast cultures. The interdisciplinary scholars wanted to know how to make their research useable for those on the ground in Afghanistan.
Mullen said he was intrigued by the implications of the group's question, but told them he needed more information before he answers.
"The question for me would be how I might best be able to connect with you in that regard, with where you are in terms of what you're learning, and how I could then put that into curriculums and connect you with both instructors and men and women in uniform who could use that," he said. "The communication piece, the cultural adaption piece, the listening, ... the seeing the challenges through other peoples' eyes – absolutely vital, and I think you could bring a lot with respect to that."
The other two questions for the chairman had to do with the H1N1 flu vaccination and a homeowner's assistance program.
The first came from an Army staff sergeant in Germany interested in whether the new H1N1 flu vaccine would be mandatory for servicemembers. Mullen said it would be, and that he anticipates the vaccine being available in about a month for servicemembers and their families. "There are an awful lot of indicators this year that this will be a very intense flu season [that's] longer than other flu seasons," he said. "So it is important that everybody gets this."
The last question came from an Army specialist at Fort Bliss, Texas, who wanted to know when the rules for the military's homeowner assistance program would be published in the Federal Register. The program was announced in May, he said, but because the rules aren't available, no applications have been processed, and many military families have been affected by the delay.
"The act was passed to try to assist those who are obviously in a position to try to buy a house and look for ways to also defer or make up for some losses in a house if you're going to sell it," Mullen said. "In fact, it is law, but when you have a law like this, what happens is the Office of Management and Budget and the affected agency – in this case, it's the Department of Defense – have to work out the details of this.
"I regret that it has been delayed," Mullen added, asking for the questioner's patience. "We're trying to work our way through that, and hopefully, in the next few weeks to months, we'll have it in the Federal Register and you'll be able to take advantage of it."
The program is airing today on the Pentagon Channel as a special presentation, and more virtual town halls are anticipated.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates also will answer questions in the same manner, and the White House is planning a similar interactive venue for President Barack Obama to take questions directly from U.S. troops deployed in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.