updated 10/1/2007 10:29:02 PM ET 2007-10-02T02:29:02

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen on Monday became the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, immediately promising to revitalize the armed forces and “properly balance our risks around the globe.”

“The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will one day end,” said Mullen, now the senior military adviser to President Bush as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We must be ready for who and what comes after. That’s the promise we’ve made. “

Mullen steps into the job having shown unusual candor about his concerns that the military may be overstretched and distracted.

“We owe it to the American people and to all of you, our men and women in uniform and your families, to provide you with clear direction,” Mullen said after being sworn in, as members of every branch of the armed services looked on.

With honor guards and a flyover by fighter jets, it was a day of high ceremony for Mullen and the outgoing chairman, retiring Marine Gen. Peter Pace.

Mullen was Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ choice to replace Pace, who had been vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs when the Iraq invasion was launched in 2003. Gates said he decided to replace rather than reappoint Pace on grounds that the escalating debate over the Iraq war — particularly between the president and a frustrated Congress — would have triggered a bitter confirmation process that could have undermined the country.

Bush seemed to allude to that while lauding Pace for his quiet strength.

“It is a strength that gave General Pace solace in the tough and sometimes bitter world of Washington, D.C.,” Bush said. “It helped him bring selflessness to a city filled with egos and a dignity to a political process that might have worn down a lesser man.”

Pace calls for civilized debate
Pace, as he put it, strayed a bit out of his lane in his parting speech. He called for a more civilized debate about the direction of the country.

“What worries me is that in some instances right now we have individuals who are more interested in making somebody else look bad than they are in finding the right solution,” Pace said, without identifying whom he was describing. “They are more interested in letting their personal venom come forward instead of talking about how do we get from where we are to where we need to be.”

Mullen has served as chief of naval operations for the past two years.

“He will bring judgment and candor to decisions that may mean the difference between life and death for young Americans who are serving our nation,” Bush said.

In introducing Mullen, Bush also found a way to take a dig at Hollywood, a favorite target of conservative Republicans.

Noting that Mullen’s parents worked in show business, Bush said many people find that surprising. “After all, he is humble, well-grounded and filled with common sense,” Bush said. “Not exactly what one thinks about when they think of Hollywood values.”

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