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Mullen: Workplace flexibility focuses on families, children

WASHINGTON -- Military families, and especially children in those families who have grown up against the backdrop of 10 years of war, are the focus of the military's effort to make workplace flexibility an increased priority, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here Feb. 1.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke during a news conference announcing a new partnership on workplace flexibility between the Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute.

"People are our absolutely most important resource, and we've said that (during) the totality of my career," Admiral Mullen said. "All of us who have led, whether in peace or in war, we know that. But what's happened over the course of the last 10 years is that we have moved to a much broader and deeper understanding of what that means."

The focus on flexibility began in March, when President Barack Obama spoke at a White House forum about modernizing the federal workplace to meet the needs of today's employees and their families.

For military leaders, Admiral Mullen said, a decade of war has put a new focus on families.

"I'm in the best military that has ever existed, and in great part because of our families, but we have got to continue to change," he said, noting that the services have put a great deal of effort into spouses' needs and those of the 70 to 80 percent of military households in which both parents work.

Such dual career-path households are "a requirement as seen by families these days," the chairman said.

"But what is emerging is a requirement, from my perspective, (is the need) to understand much more the needs of children" in those families, he added.

Because of the time service members have spent away from home, the chairman said, many children have spent years without their fathers or mothers.

"We've got 15-year-old kids who, from the beginning of the time they started to understand what their parents did," have lived in the shadow of war, Admiral Mullen said. "We've got 18- and 19-year olds who were 10 when the war started, and they went off to college this year or last year and don't know their parents that well because Mom or Dad -- mostly Dad -- has been away for at least 50 percent ... of their teenage years."

The services must hold on to such families, Admiral Mullen said.

To do so, he added, "We're going to have to reach into different places than we've reached in the past."

Service leaders must listen to those who have been at home and consider how to create the kind of flexibility and excellence that have made today's military superb, the chairman said.

"This is an imperative for us," he added. "This is a strategic imperative for our country."