McChrystal to Lead Program for Military Families
By THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON — Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was relieved of command in Afghanistan after a magazine profile quoted his subordinates as disparaging senior civilian leaders, has been invited back to public service by the Obama administration to help oversee a high-profile initiative in support of military families, White House officials said Sunday.
General McChrystal will lead the three-member advisory board for the initiative, called Joining Forces, whose aim is to encourage companies, schools, philanthropic and religious groups and local communities to recognize the unusual stress that is endured by families of active-duty personnel, reservists and veterans, and to strive to meet their needs.
The appointment of General McChrystal, who commanded elite Special Operations units before taking over the mission in Afghanistan, can be seen as an effort to mend any perception of a civilian-military breach following his forced retirement.
More broadly, the new program is an acknowledgment by the administration that while the United States has been described as “a nation at war,” the burden of combat is carried by less than 1 percent of the population. The military has been fighting for almost a decade — since a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — the longest sustained era of conflict in the nation’s history. And unlike previous wars, these have been carried out by an all-volunteer force.
As a sign of the priority that the White House is giving the new program, it will be officially announced on Tuesday by Michelle Obama, the first lady, and Jill Biden, wife of the vice president.
In an e-mail statement, Mrs. Obama said she welcomed General McChrystal’s return to public life because it would allow him to “continue to serve our country through this critical effort to support our nation’s military families.”
“He will be a unique and powerful advocate for the millions of Americans who serve our country selflessly,” Mrs. Obama said. “This program will build upon our nation’s great patriotism by asking all Americans to take action and ensure our military families have the support they have earned.”
General McChrystal, in a telephone interview on Sunday, noted that a decade of combat carried out by a relatively small military force “has required a lot of sacrifice by families.”
“This program will be a chance to focus people’s attention on ways they can help, and on the importance of helping, and provide opportunities for people to find practical things to do to support military families,” he said.
After the publication of the controversial profile, which appeared in Rolling Stone in June 2010, General McChrystal accepted responsibility for the comments made by his subordinates and resigned.
Since leaving the military, he has been teaching at Yale University and making the rounds on the lecture circuit. He said Sunday that the Obama administration’s invitation to return to public service should be seen as proof to those in uniform, and to the American public, that there were no hard feelings on either side of the civilian-military divide.
“We can prove it’s about something bigger,” he said. “It sends a strong, positive message that this is about taking care of our people.”
The Joining Forces program will be guided and coordinated by the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan policy institute. The center, which is led by two military veterans, has published a series of reports analyzing stress on service members an part of its study of “military wellness.”
Joining General McChrystal on the board of advisers are Patricia Shinseki, the wife of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, and Richard D. Parsons, chairman of Citigroup. Mr. Parsons would repesent the business community’s efforts to find jobs for veterans and for the family members of the men and women still in uniform, White House officials said.
During the last year of his tenure as the Army chief of staff, General Shinseki was criticized and then ostracized by senior Bush administration officials for his public assessment that a larger military force was needed to bring stability to post-invasion Iraq — comments that proved accurate. After President Obama’s election, General Shinseki was invited out of retirement to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new initiative is designed to prod businesses and community and charitable groups to connect with military families as an act of public service, without being prompted to do so by federal money or tax incentives, officials said. Companies will be urged to take extra measures to help military family members find jobs when they move from one community to another, and schools will be urged to adopt programs to help children adjust to the pressure of having a parent in combat.
In addition, entertainment and media companies will be asked to produce programs and public awareness spots that spotlight the needs of active-duty families, reservists and veterans. And medical groups will be encouraged to adopt programs that are suited to the health care needs of military personnel, veterans and their families.