Pace: Naval Academy Experience Shaped His Career
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 25, 2007 Sitting back in his Pentagon office, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, considered three decisions he said dramatically changed his life: to marry Lynne, his wife of 36 years; to join the Marine Corps, and to attend the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace, U.S. Marine Corps, responds to a question during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about the fiscal year 2008 budget at the Hart Senate Office building in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 6, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
With the 40th anniversary of his graduation and commissioning ceremony just around the corner, Pace told American Forces Press Service he learned much of what’s driven him and his military career on the shores of the Severn River.
He learned to set priorities. “At school, there was always too much to do, and in the Marine Corps, there has always been too much to do,” he said. “And therefore, you really have to take the important and set it aside and do the critical.”
Also critical, he said, is another lesson from Annapolis that has been reinforced throughout his military service. “The academy taught me the value of teamwork, because there were things at the academy, especially during plebe (the first) year, that you could not possibly get done by yourself,” he said. “You needed your roommates to help you get through whatever you were told by the upperclassmen had to be done and in the time they told you it had to be done.”
Pace said that lesson transferred readily to his experience as a Marine, especially one headed to Vietnam within months of finishing his Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico, Va. “In combat, there is nothing you do as an individual,” he said. “It is all based on teamwork.”
It was away from the Naval Academy -- during summer programs aboard a cruiser and a series of destroyers, and while enrolled in aviation and Marine Corps training -- that Pace said he came to appreciate the importance of enlisted leaders.
“Through those summer programs, probably through osmosis more than anything else, I got to watch … the chiefs in the Navy and noncommissioned officers in the Marine Corps and see how essential they were to the functioning of an effective force,” he said.
As he took note of their leadership styles, as well as those of his officers and fellow midshipmen at the academy, Pace said, he came to appreciate “the privilege of leadership” and started to develop his own personal style. “I learned a lot from observing good leadership and from observing bad leadership and through experimentation on my own part, trying things that worked or didn’t work for me,” he said.
Leadership, he realized, isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. “I learned at the academy that you can admire somebody’s leadership style and emulate it, and sometimes it will work for you and sometimes it won’t,” he said. “Everybody’s personality is different, and you need to understand that just because it works for Captain So-and-So doesn’t mean it will work for you. It is not cookie-cutter.”
For example, Pace found he was very comfortable walking up to someone, putting his arm around him and simply asking how he was doing. “Well, some folks are not,” he said. “And when you try doing something that works for someone else that you’re not comfortable with, you know it and everybody else knows it.
“So it is fine to try to emulate the things you admire, but understand that it might not work for you,” he said. “And if it doesn’t, just stop doing that and do what feels comfortable for you. That way, you come across much more naturally.”
As Pace approached graduation and commissioning in 1967 and began to reflect on his Annapolis experience, he said, he had one big regret. “It was apparent that I hadn’t done as well as I could have and should have, academically,” he said. “I had not taken full advantage of what the academy offered, and I hadn’t studied as hard as I should have.”
That realization turned out to be Pace’s most lasting lesson at the Naval Academy and one that’s perhaps had the biggest impact on his career.
“It drove me to decide that when I went into the Marine Corps and I went to the Basic School at Quantico, that I was going to work as hard as I possibly could and learn as much as I could,” he said.
Pace said he credits that attitude with helping him forge a successful military career, including his appointment as the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“That understanding of not having taken advantage of all that I should have and the decision not to let that happen again in my life has significantly impacted the success I’ve had,” he said. “That is a fundamental part of what I learned at the academy.”