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HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii — The top-ranking official in the U.S. military held an "all hands call" at the Hickam officers club Wednesday to take service members' questions, and he got an earful.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is visiting commanders here and making a stop at Tripler Army Medical Center to see recovering troops before heading to Australia.
Many of the questions from the approximately 200 service members in attendance Wednesday had to do with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mullen was asked about short deployment notices for sailors who deploy as individual augmentees to other units, and regulations against Marines using after-market gear in place of items the Corps can't deliver on time.
A Hawaii Marine with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment asked why some deployed Marines are stuck with older M16 rifles, while officers are issued new M4 carbines.
"Marines are stuck with what's left over," the Marine said.
Mullen replied, "That's a great question, and I also got this question yesterday at [Camp] Pendleton. I haven't got a good answer yet, but I'll get you one, and I'll get this question, quite frankly, very quickly to the commandant."
A soldier asked about private contractors who are making six-figure salaries in a combat zone, and the disparity in pay received by U.S. service members.
Mullen said re-enlistment money available to the Army is hundreds of millions of dollars more than it was just a few years ago.
Mullen thanked those in attendance from all the service branches.
"Thank you for your service," he said. "Thanks for wearing the uniform, thanks for serving our country at a really critical time."
Mullen said the U.S. military is globally engaged, "and we will continue to stay globally engaged."
He noted the country is in its sixth year of war, but at the beginning of what he said he sees as a "very long war," and one that will continue to take the significant contributions that service members already are making.
Mullen also acknowledged the stress it is causing.
"I am concerned about the continued pressure on our armed forces — particularly on our ground forces, with the multiple deployments, the length of the deployments," he said.
The 15-month deployments the Army currently is on for combat duty are "too long. We need to get that down to 12 [months] as rapidly as we can," Mullen said, adding that over the long term, his biggest concern for Iraq is that a U.S. move could precipitate a chaotic outcome — and that a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops "has great potential" to do that.