MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris. The last four years have been some of the most consequential in modern U.S. military history. And Admiral Mike Mullen has been at the helm. Today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs retired after more than 40 years in the military, and he swore in his successor, General Martin Dempsey.
Admiral MIKE MULLEN: I, state your name...
General MARTIN DEMPSEY: I, Martin Edward Dempsey...
MULLEN: ...having been appointed by the president of the United States to the position of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
DEMPSEY: ...having been appointed by the president of the United States...
NORRIS: The change-of-command ceremony took place at a military base outside Washington. NPR's Rachel Martin says Admiral Mullen didn't leave without offering some advice.
RACHEL MARTIN: First tip for General Dempsey: Don't hesitate to speak your mind.
MULLEN: I told him to remember that he isn't just the president's adviser. He's the personal representative of the 2.2 million men and women who make up our armed forces and their families. I told him he had a bully pulpit in this job, and that he should use it to voice their needs and their concerns.
MARTIN: Admiral Mullen used the bully pulpit to voice his own concerns about a range of issues during his four years as chairman. Defense officials say Mullen went into this job set on restoring some of the independence of the chairmanship, independence that had been diminished under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mullen intended to do things differently, to speak his mind. And former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates encouraged him to do so. Mullen did right from the start.
At his confirmation hearing in 2007, he said the troops in Afghanistan weren't getting the resources they needed. He pushed for a troop surge, and it happened. But Mullen will be remembered most for his role in ending "don't ask, don't tell," the military's policy banning gays from serving openly. In 2010, he said this to Congress.
MULLEN: No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.
MARTIN: At today's ceremony, President Obama said that testimony was pivotal in bringing "don't ask, don't tell" to an end.
President BARACK OBAMA: History will record that the tipping point towards this progress came when the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff went before Congress and told the nation that it was the right thing to do. Mike, your legacy will endure in a military that is stronger but also in a nation that is more just.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
MARTIN: Mullen fought to end "don't ask, don't tell," but now, it'll be up to General Martin Dempsey to implement that change. The same goes for the budget. Admiral Mullen has been at the forefront of initial efforts to cut the Pentagon's budget, but the real work - figuring out how to make possibly up to a trillion dollars in cuts - falls to Dempsey. Another piece of advice Mullen offered to Dempsey: Success in the war in Afghanistan depends on what happens in Pakistan.
MULLEN: I urged Marty to remember the importance of Pakistan to all of this, to try and do a better job than I did with that vexing and yet vital relationship. I continue to believe that there is no solution in the region without Pakistan and no stable future in the region without a partnership.
MARTIN: The last bit of advice Mullen offered on his last day was to the American public. It was almost a personal plea, to take care of the generation that has fought a decade of war.
MULLEN: Welcome them back to those places, not only with bands and bunting or yellow ribbons but with the solemn recognition that they have done your bidding. They have represented you well. They have done things and seen things and bear things in their souls that you cannot know.
MARTIN: Army General Martin Dempsey understands that. As chairman, he will grapple with the wars and Pakistan and budget cuts, but he comes to the job with the perspective of a soldier, the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2001 to fight in the wars he is now tasked with ending. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.