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Mullen: Leaders key to nation's, military's future

WASHINGTON -- Because leaders at all levels are key to U.S. success, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a CNN interview broadcast Jan. 2, his main concern is ensuring military officials continue to develop and encourage great leaders for the country.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told Fareed Zakaria on the "GPS" program that America's toughest problems are solved by great leaders. The chairman gave the interview in November 2010, but the network didn't broadcast this portion of the interview until Jan. 2.

"As I become more senior, ... one of the things I worry about the most is how do I stay in touch with those that I affect the most," Admiral Mullen said.

The chairman said he meets wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

In addition, he said, he and his wife, Deborah, go to Dover Air Force Base, Del., where the remains of fallen warriors return to the U.S., "to meet those families and to face the most difficult part of it."

"We attend the funerals at Arlington (National Cemetery)," he added. "We meet with the ... families of the fallen. I certainly intend to be there for them."

The chairman also meets service members in the field. His most recent trip to Afghanistan took him to Marja in Helmand province and to Forward Operating Base Wilson in Kandahar province.

"Local commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq don't necessarily want me out in the middle of the fight, and I can understand that," he said. "But when I visit, I try to get as far into that as I can, because one of the things that's been a leadership principle for me forever is ... I want to understand as much as I can about what I'm asking a young man or a young woman to do, including to die for our country."

That impetus, he said, is "just in my soul. I need to do that."

The need, he added, comes from feeling accountable for their lives.

Admiral Mullen also spoke about leadership at the senior level, which he said requires a different set of capabilities.

"Another thing that I try to subscribe to, particularly as I've gotten more senior, is listening, learning and leading," he said. "The more senior I've become, the more I try to listen to others and to see challenges and problems through other people's eyes, whether they are service chiefs, combatant commanders or ... military leaders throughout the world."

Still, Admiral Mullen said, he is not shy about making decisions and pushing the team forward.

The chairman said he is concerned about the military retaining the right kind of officer and NCO leaders in the future.

The military's young, mid-grade officers and NCOs have deployed repeatedly, he noted, and are the most combat-tested force in U.S. history.

"They are exceptional in what they've done," he said. "And if we retain them in our military in the right proportion, the right numbers, then our military is going to be fine for the future, and it's going to be fine because they will lead us."