- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Navy officers must learn from their mistakes, question their seniors and hold themselves accountable to lead properly, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told newly commissioned officers at the U.S. Naval Academy yesterday.

“Don’t be afraid to question your seniors,” Adm. Mullen said. “Even as ensigns and second lieutenants, you need to have the courage to stand up and say something — pose the tough questions — especially when you don’t think things are going well.”

Adm. Mullen spoke at the academy’s 158th traditional ceremony, which took place at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on a bright and sunny morning in Annapolis. The class of 2008 was 1,037 graduates — 823 men and 214 women.

Adm. Mullen, who graduated from the academy in 1968, reflected that, like the graduates, he graduated at a time when the nation was at war. But, he said, “it was different then.”

“Americans didn’t value their military in 1968,” Adm. Mullen said. “They could not separate their feelings about a war from their feelings about those who served, and thus could not bring themselves to invest adequately in either.”

He added that “our military nearly broke” as a result, and that “we must never let that happen again.”

“We must preserve the trust and confidence our young men and women in uniform have worked so hard to earn,” the admiral said. “You can help them by remembering what you’ve learned here … by learning from your mistakes, questioning your seniors and holding yourself accountable.”

Adm. Mullen emphasized that he wasn’t advising the new officers “to buck the whole chain of command.” He punctuated his remarks with humor, asking the graduates not to interpret his remarks to mean they “didn’t have to listen” to their battalion commander or commanding officer.

“But few things are more vital to our organization than someone who has the moral courage to question the direction in which the organization is headed and then the strength of character to support whatever final decisions are made,” Adm. Mullen said.

The admiral, who is the principal military adviser to the president, told the graduates that many of them will be advising civilian, as well as military leaders, sooner than they think.

“They’re going to expect your honest appraisal,” he said. “They have a right to that honest appraisal.”

Adm. Mullen, who was sworn in as chairman last year, recounted mistakes he made as a young naval officer, once colliding a gasoline tanker he was commanding into a buoy, causing some minor damage to the ship but considerable harm to his resume.

“The point is, you will struggle and sometimes you will fail,” Adm. Mullen said. “What matters most is how you deal with it.”

He told the graduates to be accountable for their mistakes.

“If you’re wrong, admit it,” he said. “If you’ve erred, correct it. Hold yourselves accountable for your actions.”

The class included 785 Navy ensigns and 233 second lieutenants in the Marine Corps.

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