Chairman Marks 40-Year Career as Military Leader, Advisor
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 7, 2007 “I am responsible for recommending that your spouses be extended,” Marine Gen. Peter Pace told about 150 military spouses and children June 5 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. “I wanted to explain to you how I came to that conclusion.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace visits the physical therapy wing of Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, and talks with a Marine who is rehabilitating his injured hand, June 5, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
This direct approach earned the respect of Tabitha Gammel, wife of Army Spc. Jeffrey Gammel with the 209th Aviation Support Battalion, whose deployment was extended from 12 to 15 months. Gammel said she was impressed that the military’s top general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would visit families affected by the new policy and take personal responsibility.
“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.
Pace, who marks his 40th anniversary on active duty today, prides himself on speaking the truth as he sees it. He displayed this long-standing conviction during a seven-day trip to Southeast Asia, providing honest analysis as a national military advisor to the secretary of defense and as a leader of troops.
The chairman left Washington on May 30, bound for Singapore to attend the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Conference, where he would take part in high-level discussions and bilateral meetings with counterparts from 25 countries.
Rather than simply make a required refueling stop at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on the way to Singapore, Pace stayed overnight so he could do what he likes to do best -- talk with troops.
About 500 airman, soldiers, sailors and Marines gathered in the base theater to hear the chairman. Instead of spouting the latest themes and messages from Washington, Pace made only a few opening remarks. He thanked the troops for their service and stressed the importance of their role on the strategically located U.S. island territory.
Then it was time for questions. Pace told the troops they shouldn’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask whatever they’d like him to answer. He warmed up the crowd by offering the first person to ask a question a signature coin, which he jokingly said “may be worth $5,000 on eBay.”
No matter the complexity or simplicity of the question, the chairman’s patience and sense of humor prevailed. He answered the questions he could, and for those he couldn’t, he admitted he didn’t know, but said he’d find out. On each issue, he provided the facts as well as insights on the Defense Department’s decisions and policies.
When a servicemember on Guam asked Pace for his “personal thoughts” on the surge in Iraq, the chairman assured the troops that his personal thoughts on the mission are the same as his professional thoughts.
“They should be identical; otherwise, I should be in another job,” he stressed. “My responsibility is to give my best military advice. I cannot imagine having a professional military opinion be different than my heart of hearts.
“My responsibility is to make sure they are the same and to speak truth as I know it to the president, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council, Homeland Security Council and the Congress when asked,” he said.
Pace wrapped up the Guam visit shaking hands and posing for pictures with every servicemember in the base theater.
In Singapore, the chairman changed hats, resuming his advisory role as he attended plenary sessions and back-to-back bilateral meetings with defense leaders from Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.
In his dealings with foreign counterparts, Pace said, he looks for common ground where both nations can benefit from military-to-military relations. Regarding the global war on terror, he has often been heard to say that “no nation is so large that it can go it alone, and no nation is so small that it cannot have strategic impact.”
From Singapore, Pace traveled to nearby Malaysia, where he met with the prime minister and defense leaders to enhance the long-standing U.S-Malaysia military-to-military ties. He also addressed about 200 students from 37 armed services from 29 countries at the Malaysia Armed Forces Staff College.
Students said they found Pace to be “very open and direct” in answering their questions about regional and global security issues. One officer from Singapore said, “I believe he speaks the truth.”
From Malaysia, the chairman went to Hawaii to visit troops, family members and wounded servicemembers. There, he discussed the extended deployments. He told wounded troops in the front row that while some people refer to them as if they were victims, “You’re heroes.” He told family members that they serve the nation “just as much as anyone in uniform.”
Army Capt. Kevin Daul’s 8-year-old daughter, Katherina, stole the show, however, when she asked the chairman, “Why do soldiers have to be deployed so long?”
Pace didn’t hesitate before answering in terms a child could easily understand. What he said seemed to resonate with the audience as a profound reminder of why they were all there in the first place.
“Soldiers have to deploy so long sometimes because soldiers love their daughters,” the chairman replied, drawing applause.
“And as much as your Daddy would prefer to be here right now hugging you,” Pace said, “he wants to make sure that you get to grow up in the same United States that he got to grow up in.
“There are bad people out there who want to change that,” he told the child. “Your Daddy is going to make sure that they don’t,” he concluded, drawing still more applause.
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 his own kitchen, and that really came through. I thought he gave very warm, heartfelt answers.”
Leaving Schofield Barracks, the chairman and Lynne, his wife of 36 years, visited wounded troops and hospital staff at Tripler Army Medical Center. The couple has long been familiar with the pain and grief of war.
Commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on June 7, 1967, Pace’s first leadership role was as a platoon leader in Vietnam. He keeps a picture on his desk of the first Marine who died under his command.
In the physical rehabilitation lab, Pace met Marine Lance Cpl. Theodore “T.J.” Cothran, 24, who lost the index finger on his right hand, took shrapnel through his shoulder and fractured the fibula in his right foot during an improvised explosive device blast in April.
Upon hearing that the day of his visit to Tripler would have been Cothran’s younger brother’s 22nd birthday if the young Marine had not been in a Humvee in Iraq that hit four IEDs in April 2006, the chairman’s face showed genuine sorrow.
Despite the loss of his brother and his battle wounds, Cothran displayed optimism that matched the chairman’s when he talked about his desire to stay in the Marine Corps as an infantryman and go to drill instructor school.
“I love having my wife with me,” he said, looking over to his wife, Britany, pregnant with their first child. “My family motivates me. I want to stay in as long as I can. I love the Marine Corps. I love being a Marine.”
While their heartfelt sympathy for the wounded is evident, Pace and his wife also understand the importance of such optimism. As they go through the hospital wards, they seem filled with newfound energy and unquenchable hope.
“Thanks for taking care of our troops,” Pace told hospital staff members on each ward he visited.
“How ya doin’ soldier?” he asked a sun-hardened troop lying on a gurney. “Want to trade places?” the troop replied.
“I wouldn’t mind the ride,” the chairman said with a jaunty smile.
As he passed out coins and shook hands with every troop in the physical rehab lab, the chairman said, “Thank you for your service.”
As a reporter wrote down the name of Army Capt. Michael McClure, who also was injured in an IED blast in Iraq, the chairman interrupted: “I’ll tell you how to spell his name,” he said, “It’s H – E – R – O.”
Homeward bound from Hawaii aboard an Air Force C-40 on June 5, the chairman’s staff and the air crew had a surprise for the Marine general. They gave Pace a red, white and blue cake, decorated with two words: “Happy 40th!”
Acknowledging his four decades on active duty, Pace said, “There are only a few organizations in the world where the senior executives would willingly change places with the junior executives. The U.S. military is one of those organizations.
“If someone offered me the chance to do it all over again,” he said, “I’d do it in a heartbeat.”