Pace Reinforces Noncommissioned Officers’ Impact on Force
By Senior Chief Petty Officer Melinda Larson, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT BELVOIR, Va., Jun. 12, 2007 The top U.S. military officer met here today with enlisted men and women to remind them of their critical roles as members of the noncommissioned officer corps and to thank them for their service.
“We’re a nation at war. Thank you for what you do,” Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the group of more than 200 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines when he began his remarks during an informal breakfast at the base’s community club.
Pace, who was introduced by his senior enlisted advisor, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, told the group his reasons for creating that position and selecting Gainey as the first person to serve in the senior enlisted advisor position in the chairman’s office.
“The day I heard I was going to be chairman, I started thinking about how I was going to find my command sergeant major or command master chief who would be my right-hand buddy,” said Pace, who was sworn in as the 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sept. 30, 2005.
Pace, a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, explained why noncommissioned officers are so important to him.
“Every single time I’ve had major responsibilities, I’ve had a first sergeant or a sergeant major who could look me in the eye and tell me when I was going to go off the rails. I rely on that,” Pace said.
The chairman added that the enlisted corps has a different view of what’s happening in a unit and that NCOs’ insight is vital to officers.
“I want you to know how important you are and should be to the officers in your chain of command, especially as your officer becomes more senior,” he said. “It’s important for you to look him or her in the eye and tell them the truth as you know it. If you can develop the kind of rapport that you can talk directly and accept the fact that sometimes all of your advice won’t be accepted because there are other parts of problems, then you can really create a team that can get the job done.”
Pace noted that troops on the ground in Baghdad have a different role from that in past wars.
“We have enormous challenges right now with repeated tours,” he said, “and it’s the noncommissioned officer corps that is carrying the enormous part of that load.
“Generals can make plans, sergeant majors can give good guidance, but at the end of the day it’s the patrols out walking the streets of Baghdad, the NCO leading that patrol and the actions of that patrol that have a strategic impact on the U.S.,” Pace explained. “We were talking 10 years ago in the Marine Corps about strategic corporals, and it’s really come into play today.”
Pace went on to explain that not only are tactical-level events important, they shape how the job is accomplished, perceived and reported.
“The way the Internet works, with the media out and about, and the way things are projected, what that sergeant and his team does or doesn’t do on the battlefield has a strategic impact, literally, on the course of the war and the way our fellow citizens and citizens of other countries think about our Army, our Navy and our Marine Corps,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the hour-long meeting, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Art Croteau, a Russian linguist assigned to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, asked the chairman to cite an example of how a command sergeant major can make a positive impact on a unit.
“Command Sergeant Major Gainey is my eyes and ears. Sometimes folks will tell him things they won’t tell me. At the end of the day, we’ll get together and, as a great leader, he tells me what I need to know,” Pace said. “When we travel together, we go our separate ways. For instance, in Iraq I’ll be talking to the battalion commander and Sergeant Major Gainey will be over looking at the Humvees. There are places I’m never going to see. Having Command Sergeant Major Gainey allows me, through him, to say thank you and be present.”
Pace also responded to a question about his leaving office when his term expires Oct. 1 by saying that he’s not sure what the future holds for him, but that he will not think about that until the day after he leaves office.
Fort Belvoir’s Command Sgt. Maj. Tracey Anbiya, who along with Army Sgt. 1st Class April Swanson sang the national anthem during the morning’s event, said she’d been planning the breakfast for about three months. At the conclusion of this morning’s event, she presented Pace with a small figure of an eagle.
“It’s important for us to hear from our top military leaders,” Anbiya said. “We presented him with the eagle to symbolize the time he spent with us on Fort Belvoir, as we are known for the Bald Eagle population that flies freely on the installation.”
Anbiya added that, with all of the branches represented at the breakfast, it reinforces strength and unification. She said the general’s comments were heartfelt and well received.
“I admired General Pace’s honesty and candid talk about himself,” Anbiya said. “I took away from him this morning that no matter what the circumstances are, you (don't) finish your race until the end, and you stay focused on your race. When it’s all over, then you plan your next step.”
(Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Melinda Larson is assigned to the DoD Criminal Investigation Task Force at Fort Belvoir.)