I am crushing on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen. Now it's true I'm famous for having a thing for men in power, particularly charismatic leaders of the free world, think Bill Clinton mid-90s, pre-Monica. And who hasn't swooned over President Obama's smooth jump shot and pearly, sensational smile? But this crush is pure military brass, a first for me, because I'm usually not turned on by men with medals and weapons.
But the Admiral had me at "childcare."
It was halfway through my dinner Tuesday night of baked cod at the Families and Work Institute's Legacy Award Gala in New York City honoring an eclectic mix including among others, the legendary 92-year-old pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took the stage.
"Our military families are stressed," he began. "We have to listen to what our families are asking for -- they need daycare and childcare. We have programs in place but we have to do more."
It's surreal when mommy bloggers surrounded by Secret Service are eating smoked salmon appetizers with U.S. Navy officers and talking about breastfeeding.
But even more shocking was how within five minutes of taking the stage, Admiral Mullen changed work/life balance from a female entitlement -- the way many still perceive the term -- into a case for national security.
"I think we have to put people in the center," Admiral Mullen said. "We are too institutionally focused. Readiness of the U.S. military is directly tied to the readiness of our families."
Admiral Mullen accepted an award from the Families and Work Institute on behalf of the U.S. Armed Forces for his Renaissance-style leadership in shaking up a staid system to improve the lives of our troops. He advocates for an increase in daycare and childcare benefits, extending time between deployments and providing more emotional and psychological counseling. Admiral Mullen also wants to change the paradigm of the linear, rigid military career path. He believes in sabbaticals, time off for family, and not working 24/7.
I am falling in love.
"We have to figure out a way to create opportunities for women [in the military] to start families," he told ABC News' Claire Shipman, who was moderating a post-dinner panel on career and family.
The latest statistics show that about 40 percent of women on active duty have children, compared to 44 percent of men. Women are five times as likely to be in dual military marriages where both partners are eligible for deployment. And 11 percent of military moms are single mothers. Admiral Mullen understands the reality behind these statistics and that thousands of children have been without their moms and dads for extraordinary stretches of time -- multiple times. The toll it takes on parents, families and children is being felt on and off military bases across the country. So the various branches of the military are getting innovative. Right now the Army is working with companies like Care.com to create childcare solutions including cooperative arrangements that give moms much needed time off.
And military families have a fierce champion in First Lady Michelle Obama who has made helping U.S. troops one of her top issues. Last Sunday, Ms. Obama speaking at Camp Pendleton in Southern California to 3,500 troops and their families, challenged all Americans to step up and make life easier for military families. President Obama has proposed millions of dollars in the 2011 budget for support for military families including counseling, childcare and other support services.
If an institution as rigid and uncompromising as the United States military can flex its flexibility and put people and families first, think what that could mean for corporate America and changing the model for how we all work and live. Admiral Mullen said that the regimented military system of advancement has hindered women which is why the retention for women in the military is about half of what it is for men. And he also says that he's listening to his soldiers who want a life and are burnt out.
"Families are doing exactly what we are asking," Admiral Mullen said. "They are the center of gravity for us and our future. We have to put people first because we've been way out of balance."
I am ready to enlist in the military and I think Admiral Mullen should keynote at BlogHer. And yes, the pressed uniform and global power gig are nice extras.
This Navy guy is a total dreamboat.