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Pace Speaks to ‘Sky Soldiers’ About Being a Soldier

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

JALALABAD, Afghanistan, July 19, 2007 – During a town hall meeting here with the “Sky Soldiers” of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, a young noncommissioned officer asked the military’s highest-ranking officer what being a “soldier” means to him.

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace addresses approximately 400 personnel attached to Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan at Camp Eggers Afghanistan, July 18, 2007.

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Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has served in uniform more than 40 years since his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967. Although not technically a “soldier,” he considers himself “a soldier of the sea,” a term dating back to the 17th century for foot soldiers who serve with the sea service.

“For me, being … a soldier of the sea has been an incredible way to spend a sizeable chunk of my adult life,” Pace told the soldier. “I’m proud of what I’ve done with those years not because of what I’ve become, but because of the opportunity to serve with so many great soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen.”

Pace noted that he re-enlisted 41 soldiers during a ceremony in Iraq on July 17. And the fact that they re-enlisted in a combat zone says something about being a soldier. He said the quality of the force has gotten higher. And when good people -- respected people – re-enlist, it makes every member of the military feel better about their chosen profession.

Following his first tour in a combat zone, Pace also chose to remain on active duty. His first assignment was to the Republic of Vietnam, where he joined 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, just in time for the Tet Offensive in February 1968.

He told the soldiers that he remembers the names of every Marine who was killed following 2nd Lt. Peter Pace’s orders. The chairman said those Marines gave their lives so Americans can live the way they please. “I have always felt a sense of responsibility to repay what they gave their country,” he told the airborne soldiers.

After coming back from Vietnam, Pace said, he made the decision to stay on active duty until he was no longer needed. He said he would know it was time to leave when he stopped getting promoted.

With four stars glinting on his desert camouflage uniform’s collars, he said, “That worked out OK. But now I’m getting close to the time the nation no longer needs me, and I’m OK with that.”

“I know, come 1 October, … that for a little over 40 years I tried to do my best to take care of the guys and gals I’ve been responsible for,” he said. “I also know that come 2 October, I will still owe the organization more than I can ever repay.”

The chairman said he will take great comfort in knowing that leaders on every level -- from private first class to general -- “go about the business of taking care of the nation’s business and taking care of each other,” Pace said.

“As long as we’ve got that, we’re going to do just fine,” he concluded.

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Gen. Peter Pace, USMC

Click photo for screen-resolution imageChairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace addresses the audience of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers before he re-enlisted 42 soldiers at Camp Liberty, Iraq, July 17, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen  
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