Pace Meets with Families, Extended Soldiers
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii, Jun. 6, 2007 Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met yesterday with some of the first soldiers and family members to be affected by the Army’s new 15-month deployments to Iraq.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conducts a town hall meeting at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, June 5, 2007. Pace met with 150 family members and soliders directly affected by the decision to extend Army tours in the Central Command area of operations to 15 months. Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, Department of Defense
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Pace stopped here on his way back from Malaysia and Singapore specifically to meet with soldiers and family members of 25th Infantry Division and the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.
“I am responsible for recommending that your spouses be extended,” Pace told about 150 military wives, husbands and children. “I wanted to explain to you how I came to that conclusion.”
In early 2006, he explained, defense officials thought U.S. and coalition forces would have trained about 328,000 Iraqi army and police by the end of the year. This would allow military officials to draw down the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
In February 2006, however, the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra set off new violence. As a result, Army officials determined they would not be able to reduce the number of forces.
After studying the situation, he said, the Joint Chiefs, along with officials in U.S. Central Command and overseas, determined that if there was a plus-up in governance by the Iraqis, and a plus-up in the Iraqi economy by the international community, then it made sense to have a temporary plus-up of ground forces – thus the recent “surge.”
They also recommended the 15-month deployment and increasing the size of the Army by 65,000 and increasing the Marine Corps by 27,000. Right now, Pace said, "Army officials have recruited about 30,000 soldiers and are recruiting more at the rate of about 7,000 a month. The Marines are recruiting about 3,000 a month."
These changes will take time, he noted. “The best impact that we can have near term,” he said, “is to reduce the global commitment of especially the Army. We’re working that.”
The chairman offered his heartfelt thanks to the soldiers and family members for serving the country.
“What I learned about military families I learned in the kitchen,” he said. “I know that when those of us who wear the uniform train up and deploy, you all stay home and keep the families tied together,” he told the family members.
“When we’re overseas,” he continued, “we know when we’re in trouble and we’re trained to do something about it. At home, you don’t know when we’re in trouble, and you worry that at the moment you’re thinking about us we are in trouble. That adds an enormous burden on your day-to-day life.”
When troops come home, he said, they get awards and family members pretend they had nothing to do with it. “The fact of the matter is, you earned that award as much as your spouse,” he told the family members. “You serve the country as well as anyone who’s ever worn a uniform.”
Turning to a group of wounded soldiers in the front row, Pace said, “We owe you a great deal. Some folks talk about you as if you’re victims. You’re heroes,” drawing applause.
“You’re not sitting here saying, ‘Yep, I’m a hero!’ I get that,” he told the troops. “But the fact of the matter is, some of you are on your first enlistment, and you knew your nation was at war, and you volunteered to serve it. This nation is extremely well served by 2.4 million Americans – active, Guard and Reserve – who are willing to stand up, sacrifice and serve so that 300 million Americans can live free lives.”
Pace urged the audience to ask him questions without fear of hurting his feelings or embarrassing him. He offered his signature coin to the first person to ask a question, and an aviator’s wife asked about incentive pay for aviators. The chairman said he would look into it and that he believed incentive pay should be the same throughout the services.
A steady flow of questions on repeat deployments, the possibility of future extensions, leave time and other topics followed. Answering those he could, the chairman didn’t hesitate to admit when he didn’t know an answer. But, he had his staff write down the question so he could follow up.
Laurie Lawson, wife of Army Maj. Joseph Lawson, 25th Aviation Combat Brigade, said she enjoyed hearing the chairman’s talk.
“It was very gracious of him to come,” she said. He said that he learned what he knows about families in the kitchen, and that really came through. I thought he gave very warm, heartfelt answers. I enjoyed that he didn’t answer questions that he didn’t have answers to, and he’s willing to refer things out to get answers.”
Tabitha Gammel, wife of Army Spc. Jeffrey Gammel, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, said she was “very impressed” with the chairman’s visit.
“Who wants to face a bunch of wives who’ve just found out their husbands are going to be over there for 15 months? Not many people,” she said. “He was very sincere.”
Gammel said she found out about the extension on the news. “My kids – we have an 8-year-old and a going-on-7-year-old -- were a little bit more upset than I was,” she recalled.
The family is taking the change in stride, she added. “It’s the Army, and we signed up for this. We signed up after 9/11 because my husband wanted to serve his country.”