St. Louis Public Radio News
9:51 am
Fri February 20, 2009

Joint Chiefs Chairman visits Scott Air Force Base

Scott Air Force Base, Ill. – The U.S. military's top officer met with hundreds of service members Thursday at Scott Air Force Base in the Metro East. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen held an hour-long question and answer session.

He covered a variety of topics, from the need to replace the Air Force's aging tanker fleet, and the military's rising suicide rate.

"The correlation between the stress of these wars and the suicide rate is something that I accept," Mullen said. "I'm not going to wait for someone to prove that to me."

Mullen said deployment schedules should be revised to give service members more time at home.

He also defended President Barack Obama's decision to send up to 17,000 new troops to Afghanistan to deal with a rising insurgency there.

Adm. Mullen said moves made in the next two years will be critical to success in that country.

Also Thursday, Mullen and Gen. Duncan McNabb of the U.S. Transportation Command, which is based at Scott, said the possible closure of a key U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan will not have an adverse impact on American operations in nearby Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev approved a parliamentary decision to close the Manas Air Base, which is used as a stopover for troops and cargo.

Gen. McNabb said if the Pentagon cannot renegotiate its lease, TRANSCOM will find another way to Afghanistan.

"I think what TRANSCOM brings to the table is the flexibility to deliver options," McNabb said. "Manas is very convenient, but not essential."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he's willing to pay the Kyrgyz government higher rent, and said the U.S. considers talks still open over the base's future.