Chairman Wraps Up Overseas Trip
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 22, 2007 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is back from an overseas trip that included an impromptu visit to a former insurgent stronghold in Iraq.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace listens to the question of a soldier during a townhall meeting at brigade headquarters in Ramadi, Iraq, July 17, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A previously unscheduled visit to downtown Ramadi on July 17 highlighted Marine Gen. Peter Pace’s weeklong trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany.
After visiting with soldiers and Marines at a forward operating base in Ramadi, the chairman was due to fly to Tikrit, but a dust storm blew in and grounded all the helicopters, leaving th chairman with time on his hands.
Army Col. John Charlton, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, invited Pace to use the unscheduled time on the ground in Ramadi to see for himself what it was like downtown. The trip would have been impossible just three months ago. Al Qaeda terrorists had intimidated the population and had the run of the city. Marines and soldiers could not move inside the city without drawing small-arms fire.
But the trip downtown went without incident. Pace and his party visited the city’s mayor, and the general walked through a bazaar and met with vendors as children, parents and Iraqis of every stripe gathered to see what was happening.
Pace next visited a joint security station and a combat outpost, where he met with Marines in the same battalion he served with in Vietnam in 1968 – the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines.
There were no incidents, no firing, no improvised explosive devices during the trip. Pace called the change in Ramadi a “sea change” in Iraq, one that has spread to all of Anbar province and is making inroads in Baghdad.
Pace started the Iraq portion of his overseas trip in Baghdad for a series of meetings with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker. Pace spoke with the men in anticipation of the assessment of progress in Iraq that’s due to Congress in September.
Pace said the Joint Staff has been working for months on any number of possibilities that could unfold in Iraq. “That way, we have the planning done no matter what the decision – plus-up, go-down or maintain,” he said to reporters traveling with him. “From my perspective in D.C., I’ve got to do the homework that allows the national leadership to do whatever route they want to take.”
Pace said it is important that Petraeus and his staff, Navy Adm. William J. Fallon’s staff at CENTCOM, and the Joint Staff continue to examine the situation in Iraq from their different perspectives.
“As we get closer to September, we’ll start sharing ideas, but none of us wants to get too wrapped up in the other team’s thinking, so we don’t end up with groupthink,” Pace said.
Pace capped the long day with meetings with Multinational Corps Iraq leader Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.
The next day, Pace met with leaders of Multinational Division Baghdad at Camp Victory. After the meeting he met with servicemembers of the division and held a question-and-answer session with them, a practice that proved to be an important part of every stop for the chairman.
Pace said he wanted to thank servicemembers for their service, and to explain personally to soldiers the reasoning behind the decision to extend their deployments to 15 months.
“I owe it to them to stand in front of them and explain to them the process that we went through from July through December last year,” he said to reporters traveling with him. “(I want to tell them) how my thinking emerged, why I made the recommendations I did, and most importantly, tell them that we understand their sacrifice.”
He next went to Multinational Division Central, where he re-enlisted 42 soldiers and held another town hall meeting before traveling to Ramadi.
After leaving Ramadi, the chairman flew via C-17 to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, where he arrived at 2:30 a.m. He got up at 6 a.m. and engaged in a full day of activities, first meeting with leaders of Combined Joint Task Force 82 and then holding a town hall meeting at the base’s clamshell-shaped auditorium.
He then traveled to the Afghan capital of Kabul and went to meetings with U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, and with Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak. With the minister, he discussed accelerating training of the Afghan security forces and the possibility of sending another U.S. brigade in the future to help the training mission.
Pace moved on and met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The president surprised Pace by awarding him the Order of General Kahn, the highest decoration Afghanistan gives to foreigners.
The next day, Pace flew via C-130 to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, where he met with troopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He had an operations briefing and then conducted a town hall meeting with the paratroopers and their supporting units.
Pace left Jalalabad and flew to Kandahar, where he and his party boarded Black Hawk helicopters and flew to Qalat, the capital of Jalat province. He had met the governor of the province, Del Bar Jan Aman, during a previous visit. The governor wrote the chairman a letter and thanked him for all the Americans are doing in his province and invited him to drop by for another meeting if he had the chance. The chairman did just that.
Pace met with the governor and the governor’s staff. Before leaving, the governor presented the chairman with a turban called a “longy” and the cape that Karzai has become identified with, called a “balla push.”
Pace then flew back to Kandahar and shifted to a C-17 for the seven-hour trip to Nurnberg to begin the Germany leg of his overseas trip.
The next day, Pace flew to Schweinfurt, where he met with the spouses of deployed servicemembers. Pace thanked the spouses for all they do to support their deployed servicemembers and for all they do to hold their families together. “You serve as well as anyone who has worn the uniform,” Pace told them.
After the meeting, Pace spoke with every spouse and soldier present. He then visited U.S. European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, where he met with the EUCOM Commander Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock and held a town hall for the staff.
The next day, Pace flew to Ramstein Air Base and then motored over to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. He visited with wounded servicemembers and presented the Purple Heart to an 82nd Airborne Division soldier, Spc. Colin Laird Pearcy, who was wounded in Sadr City, Iraq.
Pace has visited the medical center many times, and said he always leaves feeling humbled.
“You feel a mixture of humility, because the troops invariably say to you that all they want to do is get back to their units,” he said. “No matter how badly wounded they are, what they are thinking about is the guys and gals they left on the battlefield.”
The chairman spoke to the medical professionals and thanked them for their work in caring for returning servicemembers.