Pace Takes Command; Pledges to Help Democracy, Prosperity, Freedom Grow
By Tech. Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
National Guard Bureau
MIAMI, Sept. 11, 2000 Marine Gen. Peter Pace took command of the U.S. Southern Command here Sept. 8, pledging to cooperate with partner nations to ensure that democracy, prosperity and freedom continue to grow strong roots in the hemisphere.
In front of hundreds of military and civilian guests, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen passed the reins of command to Pace from Marine Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, who culminated his command and 37-year military career.
Pace, 54, assumes responsibility of U.S. military operations in the command's area of responsibility, which includes 32 nations spanning 12.1 million square miles, from Latin America, the Caribbean Sea and island nations, the Gulf of Mexico and portions of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Cohen welcomed Pace and his wife, Lynne, to Miami. He recalled how he knew the general from his previous service on the Joint Staff and in Norfolk, and declared the "straight-talking soldier-of-the-sea" ready for his new post. "He is a man of extraordinary ability, with the skill, experience and judgment to carry on the critical work of this command," Cohen said.
Pace arrived in Miami a three-star general. He received his fourth star shortly before the change of command ceremony from Marine Commandant Gen. James L. Jones and his wife.
Previously, Pace commanded 92,000 Marines and sailors as the commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic; commanding general, Fleet Marine Forces, Atlantic; commander, Marine Corps Bases, Atlantic; commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe; commanding general, Fleet Marine Forces Europe, and commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces South in Miami.
The general was born Nov. 5, 1945, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Teaneck, N.J. He is a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md. He received a master's degree in business administration from George Washington University in 1972.
Cohen presented Wilhelm the Defense Distinguished Service Medal and his wife, Valerie, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Award for Distinguished Public Service. "Their extraordinary partnership has flourished through more than three decades of service and sacrifice -- living in some 28 different houses in 33 years," he said.
Cohen recognized Wilhelm for leadership, loyalty, commitment and for overseeing the nation's security interests with "tactical skill and strategic genius." The secretary said the general "forged deeper bonds with the democracies of this hemisphere and brought help in the wake of natural disasters such as Hurricane Mitch."
Also, in his three years as SOUTHCOM commander, Wilhelm led the implementation of the Panama Canal treaty and brought the command to Miami. He brokered an end to the long-standing border conflict between Peru and Ecuador. In addition, he directed massive U.S. military assistance to countries in the Caribbean in the aftermath of Hurricane Georges and redeployed troops from Haiti.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lee Roberts is assigned to the U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs Office, Miami.)