Economic times are tough, ignore your Pentagon holiday party invitation

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In one sign of the tough times that Barack Obama’s newly announced economic team will face, the nation’s top military officer is disinviting people from his annual holiday party.Citing “these trying financial times” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen and his wife, Deborah, last week mailed formal printed cards, topped with the admiral’s pale-blue flag with four stars, disinviting guests from the annual holiday party the Chairman traditionally holds.

“Please disregard your December 7 Holiday Reception invitation,” the note says. “We sincerely regret any inconvenience and greatly appreciate your understanding,” the 4 ½ by 6 inch card continues. “All the best for a joyous holiday season,” it concludes.

An unusual message

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It is a “rather unusual" note, admits the chairman’s spokesman, Navy Captain John Kirby. Admiral Mullen “began to grow concerned about” the party’s suitability, Kirby said. Unfortunately, the decision to forgo the holiday gathering came after the first batch of invitations had already been sent.

In normal years, several hundred Defense Department executives, diplomats, and members of the press attend the chairman’s party, with invitees arriving in shifts. It is a “big party and it is fairly expensive,” Kirby said. (Full disclosure: Guests in the past have included your loyal correspondent and my college-aged sons.)

A party with punch and a view

The traditional setting for the gathering, which features a military string quartet playing holiday music, is the chairman’s quarters at Fort Myer, Virginia, at the top of a hill offering stunning views of Washington and its monuments.

But when he was chief of naval operations, Mullen lived in large home on a government installation near the State Department, in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington. He stayed in the home when he was sworn in as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on October 1, 2007. So last year, the party was held there.

Welcoming a deserving group

While diplomats and reporters won’t be sipping punch and chatting with the chairman this year, he will be holding a much smaller holiday gathering for a much more deserving group. In their note disinviting reporters, Mullen and his wife said they would be hosting “a small gathering for wounded service members, their families, and the families of the fallen.”

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