Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, distinguished guests. Admiral Mike Mullen – thank you for your willingness, yet again, to answer your country’s call. Men and women of the Armed Forces.
Even a condensed version of General Pete Pace’s 40 years of distinguished service would take up much of the morning. So I would like to spend a few minutes talking about the man I have come to know over the past ten months. I should begin with a story about a place and a platoon.
At 3:40 A.M., on January 31st, 1968, thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers engulfed the ancient city of Hue as part of what became known as the Tet offensive – leaving a small contingent of American and South Vietnamese surprised and surrounded.
Several miles down the road at Phu Bai, members of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, were called in to the rescue – for what one officer called “an afternoon of street fighting.”
That “afternoon” turned into a month long campaign in a city where, according to one officer, “every window, every roof, and every intersection harbored potential death.”
By the end of the first week, the American flag flew proudly above the enemy headquarters on the south side of the city.
But for 2nd Platoon, the cost of this real estate had been high: Two-thirds of their comrades could no longer bear arms, including their leader. Many fell in the opening minutes of the battle while trying to take a bridge. And there was much more fighting left.
Such was the scene that awaited Golf Second of the Fifth’s newest platoon leader, the third in as many weeks: Second Lieutenant Peter Pace, age 22. Such was the heroism and the hope of those who would begin to shape that young Marine into the officer we honor today.
The first thing Pete did was call together the squad leaders and say to them, “My name is Pete Pace, and I have no idea what I’m doing. . . . If you guys will help me out and talk to me, I promise that I will listen.”
Barney Barnes was one of Pete’s squad leaders. He recalled, “Some officers come in and they demand respect. General Pace didn’t do that. He earned our respect. He earned it by loving us, caring for us, teaching us, making sure that we were the best Marines that we could possibly be.” Many years later, of those men, and of that experience, Pete said, “It was their blood that gave me a debt that I can never fully repay.”
Marine officers take special care to consider themselves leaders of Marines first, and whatever military specialty they might be second. And General Pace is certainly that. But as we have seen through 40 years of extraordinary service, this proud Marine has also shown himself to be a gifted leader of soldiers, sailors, airmen – and with his wife Lynne, a firm advocate for their families as well.
General Pace brings his career to a close as one of the last of a dwindling breed of officers. His four decades in uniform have spanned four eras of the U.S. military’s modern history. From:
The Vietnam War and the draft;
To the all-volunteer force and victory in Desert Storm;
To the false tranquility following the Cold War; and
Then the post-9/11 campaigns our Armed Forces have waged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and against violent jihadists worldwide.
I should note that about the same time Pete was rallying his men in Vietnam, I was just beginning my transition from the Air Force to the CIA. While Pete was getting shot at, I was starting my CIA training here, having just transferred from duty tending ICBMs at Whiteman Air Force Base. The closest I’ve been to live combat is going to the Hill to testify, which is why I’ve always wanted Pete there by my side.
When I arrived at the Pentagon, Pete helped ensure that I had everything I needed to lead this department.
His expertise and wisdom across a wide variety of complex issues has helped guide my every decision. I value his candor, and I have come to trust his judgment in all matters. His sense of humor has lifted me when I was down and his sense of duty has driven me to do right by the men and women of this Department. He has been more than a mentor. He has been a friend.
And the thing that sticks with me is that although General Pace is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most powerful military officer in the world, he still cares for everyone in our Armed Forces as if he were still their platoon leader. Whenever we at the highest levels are faced with a decision, no matter how big or small, he will always ask aloud the question that has guided him throughout his career, “How will this impact Private First Class Pace and Mrs. Pace?” In General Pace, the men and women of the Armed Forces have had a leader who never lost sight of the individual or the troops on the frontlines.
Through it all, he has carried himself with humility, dignity, and grace – qualities that were on display when he joined those battle-weary Marines in the rubble of an ancient city halfway around the world and incurred, as he said, a debt he could never fully repay.
Pete, I speak for everyone in the nation when I say that your debt has been more than repaid. In my service under seven presidents, I have been privileged to serve with great leaders. You are one of the finest.
You leave today as you should: With flags flying, words of tribute ringing in your ears, and the heartfelt thanks of a grateful nation.
We wish you and Lynne the very best. Thank you.