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GIs, spouses tell Mullen of concerns

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FORT DRUM — In a whirlwind tour, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deborah, spent Monday morning in a closed-door meeting with spouses of deployed soldiers.

He said they discussed the concerns and frustrations that come hand in hand with a deployment.

"We met with about 300 spouses earlier today who are not shy about some of the challenges that are out there," he said. "This was validated this morning when some spouses raised their hands and said they were reluctant to find some help because they are concerned if they do, it could hurt the military member's career."

Following the meeting with spouses, Adm. Mullen made himself available for a question-and-answer session with junior enlisted soldiers from various units within the 10th Mountain Division. He talked to them for a short time about the current state of affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan and what he hopes the future will hold for the military.

He was asked several questions by those in the audience and responded candidly. Among the issues raised was the overwhelming dependence the military has on civilian contractors — such as Blackwater USA and KBR Inc. — and what that could mean for the future of the military in a war zone.

"We started these wars after coming down in our overall size and had a large requirement for contractor support," he said. "In my opinion, we are too dependent on our contractors and we've got to figure out a way to wean ourselves off that."

Soldiers in the audience said getting face time with the man who helps make decisions about their training, amount of time at home and the kind of equipment they will use was invaluable.

"He gave us a good outlook on what's to come," said Spc. Corey Beets of Alpha Company, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

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