Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruffled feathers with a quip last Thursday claiming that while Gates was still in office living alone in and microwaving his own food in a modest military house in Washington, DC (his wife lived in Washington State), Mullen, his next door neighbor, was having his meals cooked for him by a staff.
What in any other season would have been a classic Gates laugh-line is now taken as a serious question, as the four-star lifestyle has come under scrutiny following Gen. David Petraeus’ resignation from the CIA. For example, a recent report noted that Petraeus traveled with a large motorcade while he and Gen. John Allen befriended Jill Kelley, a Tampa “hostess” of social functions for the unformed elite on the military base.
In the military, high-ranking officers have incredible perks at their fingertips. But they also have great latitutde on whether or how they use those perks. The military has issued ethical rules for the road for generals and admirals.
According to the Navy's standards of conduct, admirals can have "flag aides," military personnel assigned to give direct support to a flag officer (rear admiral or higher), to schedule official or medical appointments or coordinate their time with family members. They cannot have the aide get family members into official events, write checks, or pick up the officer’s meals from the mess. They can drive the officer to the laundry, but they cannot be made to pick up the laundry for the admiral. They cannot pick up the admiral returning from vacation at the airport, either.
Enlisted aides can be made to do more menial tasks, the rules state, such as minor groundskeeping like mowing and raking leaves, or fetching three meals a day for the admiral, and cleaning and pressing the officer’s uniform. But they still can’t be made to do heavy yardwork or personal chores like pet care, childcare, or planning personal birthday parties.
The standards of conduct given to all flag officers makes clear what is expected of them. “While you alone bear the burden of an improper ethical decision, the choices you make will have real consequences that often are significant. Use rigorous analysis when making ethical choices, however minor, so that your decisions can withstand scrutiny from all sources,” it states.
“I want to believe that Secretary Gates was just joking and I suspect that he was because he and Adm. Mullen had that kind of relationship where they jive each other as next-door neighbors,” one former Mullen advisor told the E-Ring, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Secretary Gates knows very well how fastidious Adm. Mullen was about this,” the advisor said.
But, for Mullen, the job of Joint Chiefs chairman required use of his home for state and official business, often multiple times a week. “What people need to understand is there are heavy, heavy social engagements that come with these jobs,” the advisor explained.
The Mullens lived at a home in a small historic Navy complex off limits to the public located across the street from the State Department on 23rd Street that houses the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. The house is used for official government functions. “They entertained at those quarters two to three times a week,” the advisor said, hosting counterpart chiefs of defense or ambassadors from other countries. Gates often asked the Mullens to host events at their home. The Mullens also hosted several Christmas parties each year, inviting wounded troops, families of those killed in action, reporters and Supreme Court justices.
Those events all required staff, the advisor said. “They can’t walk your dog, they can’t buy your personal groceries, they don’t cook for you when it’s just the two of you at home at night. They don’t clean the litter box if you have a cat, they don’t clean out the fishbowl if you have a fish. That’s not their job. Their job is to take care of the household as it exists as an official government property.”
Indeed, the entire downstairs floor was filled with government-owned furniture and carpeting; everything but the Mullens' prized framed copies of old Playbills that hung on the wall was Uncle Sam's.
“During the nights that they weren’t hosting, Mrs. Mullen cooked all the meals. She did the grocery shopping, she cooked the meals and prepared them. The Mullens did their own dishes. They don’t get to use these guys as personal servants. It’s about very limited use in official functions only,” Mullen’s former advisor said.
The Mullens had lived in the same house when he was vice chief of the Navy -- and they stayed there when the admiral was promoted to chief of the Navy. The official residence for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs for the last 50 years is Quarters Six, a 7,300-square foot, 11-room 1908 mansion located across the river in Fort Meyer along "Officer's Row," a line of homes that includes the Army chief of staff's residence. The current Joint Chiefs chairman, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, and his wife, Deanie, live there. Their four enlisted aides are top chefs.
“It’s a big, big house. The Mullens thought it was a little too big for them and a little too ostentatious for their taste and they really liked where they were,” the advisor said. Mullen told Gates one condition of taking the chairmanship was being allowed to remain in their smaller home.
As chairman, two years in a row the administration hosted 2+2 meetings with Pakistan’s defense minister and foreign minister, which included Pakistan’s Army chief, Gen. Parvez Kayani, whom Mullen knew well. “In both times, at the request of Secretary Gates,” the Mullen advisor said, “the official dinner for that visit, which was a working dinner -- I mean the horse holders were kicked out, it was just the principals -- it was held at Mullen’s quarters. It wasn’t just hors d’oeuvres and wine, they actually got down to business. They kicked out personal staff. It was a working-level discussion.”
As for Petraeus’ long motorcades, Mullen usually shunned them, driving around Washington in just an armored car with a chase vehicle. Mullen would drive himself to the gym at the Navy Yard nearly every morning at 3:45am.
“He said it was the only time of the day that he got to control the radio dial,” the advisor said.
When Mullen and his wife would visit their grandchildren in Norfolk, the chairman insisted on driving his own SUV with is wife. Security officials insisted on following from behind.
DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released