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News | Aug. 18, 2009

Gates, Mullen use new media to hear from troops, public

By Donna Miles , American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON (Aug. 19, 2009) – Got questions you’d like to pose directly to the defense secretary or chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Now is your chance!

                Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen have launched interactive, virtual town hall sessions through the Internet.

The initiatives are part of a broad administration effort to connect more closely with the military, the American public and people overseas. The goal, officials explained, is to provide a forum for people to ask questions or offer suggestions or insights and get direct feedback.

The new Defense Department home page that went live this week features a prominently placed “Ask the Secretary” section. Anyone visiting – military members, American citizens, people overseas – can submit a question to Gates.

Questions will be accepted for two weeks, then participants in the town hall will have another two weeks to vote on the questions submitted. The secretary will answer the five to 10 questions that top the list.

Meanwhile, Mullen launched an “Ask the Chairman” venue yesterday that enables anyone to pose a question to him via YouTube. The virtual town hall is open to everyone, whether they’re in the military or a military family or simply care about military issues, officials said.

Viewers can ask questions about whatever is on their minds – the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, what the military is doing for wounded warriors and families, the new Post-9/11 GI Bill or another topic of interest – by visiting

“The chairman really wants to have a conversation with the troops akin to the way he does all-hands calls at bases all over the world,” Navy Capt. John Kirby, Mullen’s public affairs officer, told American Forces Press Service. "He wanted that conversation to be as interactive as possible and reflective of what is on their minds.”

Aug. 31 is the deadline to submit video questions. After the deadline, Mullen will watch questions submitted by YouTube viewers, then respond in a podcast, officials said.

Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said taking advantage of new media tools will enable Pentagon leaders to engage in an important two-way conversation with the public.

“We do live in a democracy, and that feedback from people is important to know what they’re thinking, what they believe is important,” he said. “It’s their national security policy, it’s not ours. It’s theirs. The president was elected, and he appointed people here at the Defense Department to lead, but it starts with the American people.”

The White House is planning a similar interactive venue for President Barack Obama to take questions directly from U.S. troops deployed in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.