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Shocked on a Sunday morning

By Staff | Oct 9, 2011

Admiral Mike Mullen

It’s not often that something on television makes me rise up out of my easy chair and say, “What was that?”

(OK, the recent Vikings games have caused that very reaction, but I am not counting those ­- I am referring to ‘regular’ TV.)

But that response is exactly what happened last Sunday morning.

With cup of coffee in hand, I was watching one of my favorite TV shows (and they are few and far between) CBS Sunday Morning.

I enjoy the show because it is slow-paced (not trying to cover a news event in two minutes or less) and I always learn a lot of things I never knew before.

This last Sunday morning there was a segment on Admiral Mike Mullen, who recently stepped down as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

You probably never heard of him. I would have to agree with you about knowing him except for one thing.

I once caught him appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. Maybe you have heard of the show and maybe not, but it is pure satire, mostly of current events and politics.

When I saw Admiral Mullen’s appearance and his introduction as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I immediately was suspect. I was sure it was an actor in a uniform portraying the Chairman of the JCS.

In fact, his back and forth ‘joshing’ with host Stewart just cemented my conviction that it was an actor and a spoof.

I was wrong. It was indeed the Chairman of the JCS, the most powerful man in the military, who reports only to the Commander In Chief – the president himself.

Last Sunday Mullen explained he wanted to reach a different, younger American audience, thus his appearance on The Daily Show. Plus he talked Stewart into visiting the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the two had become friends.

Admiral Mullen was about to retire as the highest ranking naval officer in 2007 when then-President George Bush tagged him to be the Chairman of the JCS. President Barack Obama re-appointed him.

At the end of September Mullen retired from his high-ranking position.

He is probably most famous for arranging for the drawdown of troops in Iraq and increase of troops in Afghanistan. He also was the man in charge when Bin Laden was found and assassinated.

He also was the one in charge when the ‘no-tell’ rule concerning gays serving in the military was rescinded.

With his retirement, CBS Sunday Morning was profiling him and interviewing him.

It was an interesting piece, and I was paying mild attention and learning some things I did not know before.

Mullen started telling the interviewer how he felt about the loss of troops in the conflicts and how it affected him. And he wondered if all Americans are as concerned as they should be.

He started saying he wears a bracelet to constantly remind himself that brave American troops are losing their lives in service to their country.

The interviewer asked him if there was the name of specific soldier on the bracelet, and Mullen said there is.

He explained it is the name of a soldier killed on Mother’s Day in 2008 in Iraq.

Her name is Jessica Ann Ellis, he said. I?sat upright and nearly spilled my coffee. I know that name, I thought.

Then the TV showed the gravestone of Corporal Ellis in Arlington National Cemetery. I know that tombstone, I thought.

It hit me. We have run a picture of that very tombstone in the pages of one of our Our Heroes magazines.

Turns out I was correct.

In our November 2009 issue of Our Heroes, writer Kevin Mertens wrote a story about Blue Earth native Jenna Schmidtke and her service as a medic in Iraq.

Schmidtke had just lost her roommate and fellow medic when the vehicle she was in was hit by an explosive device on Mother’s Day in 2008.

Schmidtke’s roommate and best friend in the service was Jessica Ann Ellis.

The Our Heroes story was all about Schmidtke’s outlook of her service in Iraq, especially after the loss of her best friend.

Schmidtke later gave birth to a son and named him Jaxson Jeremiah Jae Lee.

The name Jae comes from her friend’s initials. It is Schmidtke’s way of remembering her fallen comrade.

It is amazing that the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is also remembering her friend, by wearing a bracelet with her name on it. I told you I?learn something every time I watch that Sunday Morning show.