JOINT BASE MYER HENDERSON HALL, Va., Sept. 30 (UPI) -- President Obama Friday praised Adm. Mike Mullen's service as the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and welcomed his successor, Gen. Martin Dempsey.
"Your legacy will endure in a military that is stronger and in a nation that is more just," Obama said during a ceremony at Joint Base Myer Henderson Hall in Virginia marking the transition.
The nation's military is moving forward from a position of strength, Obama said, noting fewer military personnel are in harm's way, more will return home, and more will enjoy shorter deployments and more training for missions.
"Put simply, despite the stresses and strains of a hard decade of war, the military that Adm. Mullen passes to Gen. Dempsey today is the best that it has ever been," Obama said during the outdoor ceremony under sunny skies.
Leadership of the nation's military was turned over to Dempsey, "one of our nation's most respected and combat-tested generals," Obama said, thanking the general and his family "for answering the call to serve once more."
Obama said Dempsey, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others "still have much to do, from bringing the rest of our troops home from Iraq this year, to transitioning to Afghan lead for their own security, from defeating al-Qaida to our most solid of obligations, taking care of our forces and their families when they go to war and when they come home."
"None of this will be easy, especially as our nation makes hard fiscal choices," Obama said, "but as commander in chief, let me say it as clearly as I can: As we go forward, we will be guided by the mission we ask of our troops and the capabilities they need to succeed. We will maintain our military superiority. We will never waver in defense of our country, our citizens, or our national security interests."
In remarks punctuated by gentle, sometimes self-deprecating humor, Mullen said he told Dempsey his biggest challenges would be overseeing the transition of security in Afghanistan, the situation in Pakistan and looming budget battles in Congress.
"Cuts in defense spending are fair game and we should do our part, but cut too deeply and we will burn the very blanket of protection we've been charged to provide our fellow citizens," Mullen said. "Cut too deeply now, and we will harm, perhaps irreparably, the industrial base from which we procure the materials of war."
Mullen also said he had "every opportunity" to offer his views to the president.
"All of my advice has been heard," Mullen said. "A military man or woman can ask for nothing more of their civilian leaders, and they should expect nothing less."
Obama "made it clear from the beginning that he valued military counsel and that protecting the American people was his top priority, and he's made good on both promises," Mullen said.
One last bit of advice Mullen said he told Dempsey: Obama "really likes it when you laugh at his jokes and it makes the meeting go better."
Mullen also asked U.S. citizens to "continue to believe" in members of the military and look for ways to reach out to them and their families "in what I call this sea of good will that I know exists in the country."
Recognizing what he was asking is tough because Americans are struggling, Mullen said, "But they fought them for you. They're still fighting them for you, and that is very much foremost on their minds."
After being sworn in as the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey spoke of change and challenges.
"But when I complete my tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff I intend to be able to say … we will be the joint force the nation needs us to be, so help me God," Dempsey said.