Pace Observes 39 Years of Service Reflecting on Leadership, Service
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 9, 2006 Thirty-nine years to the day after his U.S. Naval Academy commissioning in 1967, Gen. Peter Pace, the first Marine to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, still isn't ready to call himself a good leader.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, salutes a leadership style he said makes him a firm believer in taking care of his people and letting them know they're appreciated. It's a lesson he learned early in his career by watching senior officers. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"If you think you're a good leader, then you're probably not," Pace told American Forces Press Service during his June 7 return flight to Washington after an official trip to Guam, Singapore and India.
Good leadership is something you have to strive for every day, Pace said. Once you begin to believe you've achieved it, he said, "You start to get sloppy about paying attention."
After following Pace around for a week, it's evident that he's paying attention. He was with commanders in Guam about preparations for moving 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa, with nine chiefs of defense as well as ministers of defense at an Asian security conference in Singapore, and with military and government leaders in India. Even with this jam-packed schedule of briefings and high-level meetings, Pace never missed a chance to thank the U.S. troops he met along the way.
As he toured Naval Base Guam by mini-bus, Pace jumped from his seat to pay an impromptu call on a formation of sailors gathered outside USS City of Corpus Christi. "I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you for what you do here," he told the assembled crewmembers. Later in the day, he greeted B-2 Stealth bomber crewmembers on a rotation from Whitman Air Force Base, Mo.
In Singapore and India, Pace met with the Marine Corps Detachment security guards serving at the U.S. embassies there.
Even during a short refueling stop here on the way back to Washington, Pace and his wife, Lynne, dashed off to nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to meet with wounded troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wherever he went, the chairman shook hands, chatted with the troops, thanked them for their service and presented his signature Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff coin. At Landstuhl, Pace surprised the hospital staff, gathered in a corner in an attempt to stay out of the way, by walking up to them and extending the same courtesies.
"That special recognition means a lot to them," said Army Col. Carol Gilmore, deputy commander for nursing. "It gives them that little boost and makes them feel special."
Pace said he's a firm believer in taking care of his people and letting them know they're appreciated. It's a lesson he learned early in his career by watching senior officers. "The guys I remember are the ones who didn't just walk through the cordon," he said.
But a good leader doesn't go around thanking people for a job well done, then assume that's finished and move on to other things.
"It's about thanking people every day," Pace said. "It takes so little time to look them in the eye and say, 'Thank you for what you're doing.'"
Ultimately, Pace said, "it probably does more good for me than for them."
Pace reflected on all he's learned since his graduation and commissioning ceremony, when he wore his Marine Corps uniform for the first time. "I didn't have a clue if I could be a good Marine, but I wanted to try," he said.
As his career advanced, Pace said he developed his leadership style largely by watching and learning from his senior officers. Most were great leaders themselves and strong role models, he said, and even one officer who wasn't provided positive leadership lessons.
"Watch other leaders and emulate the things you like," Pace said to those seeking leadership advice. "But don't assume that you can do it the way they do. Try it, but if it doesn't feel natural, try something else. It has to be right for you."
Soft-spoken by nature, Pace said he quickly realized that while some people used it effectively to instill discipline, "yelling and screaming didn't work for me." Similarly, he didn't see much value in growling at someone who already felt badly about making a mistake.
He recalled a time when a senior officer told Pace he was disappointed in something he'd observed in Pace's unit. "He might as well have torn my heart out," the chairman said. "I felt so bad that I had let him down."
Pace adopted the style as his own. To this day, when he sees someone do something he's not happy about, "I just look them in the eye and tell them I'm disappointed," he said.
On his own staff, Pace doesn't believe in belaboring minor transgressions. When someone makes a misstep he tells them they're fired, then quickly tells them that their punishment is to be immediately rehired. Staff members call the lighter approach an effective way at getting the point across and ensuring everyone involved understands that the situation could have been handled better.
Of Pace's long list of military experiences, none has had as much lasting impact as his very first assignment, in Vietnam. Pace called his time as a rifle platoon leader, then assistant operations officer for the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, "a defining year" in his career and life. "I came to genuinely value and love the guys who served," he said.
President Bush noted that devotion to the troops when he nominated Pace to replace retiring Air Force Gen. Richard Myers as Joint Chiefs chairman. "It tells you something about Pete Pace's devotion to his troops that under the glass on his desk at the Pentagon, he keeps a photo of Lance Cpl. Guido Farinaro, the first Marine he lost in combat in Vietnam," Bush said.
"Those who followed my orders and died are individuals I will never forget," Pace said today. He remembers them "not in a sad way, but in a respectful way," and said he will always feel "indebted to them."
Pace remembers wondering, during his flight home from Vietnam, why, "when people were getting wounded and killed all around me, I never got a scratch."
"I figured there was something I was supposed to do to keep taking care of them," he said. And to this day, Pace said he's keeping a promise to himself to serve in the Marine Corps as long as he could do just that.
Thirty-nine years of service has reaffirmed the chairman's fundamental belief in the men and women of the armed forces and their leaders' responsibility to look out for them. Pace said he's learned that "the more you take care of people, the more they take care of you."
Troops want their leaders to be successful and will bend over backwards to help ensure they are, he said. "They'll give you much more than you could ever demand," he said.
The makeup of the military has changed dramatically since Pace first began wearing the uniform almost four decades ago. The draft is long gone, replaced by an all-volunteer force, many of its members with spouses and children.
Pace said he recognizes the important role of military families and encourages servicemembers to strive to keep a balance between their military and family obligations.
"Everything I learned about military families, I learned in my own kitchen," said Pace, still married to the Ellicott City, Md., girl who caught his eye during his senior year in Annapolis. The Paces have two children, Peter, a Marine Corps Reserve captain set to receive his master's degree in business next week, and Tiffany Marie, an accountant.
Serving in the military often leaves little time left for families, the general conceded. "So whenever I'm with my kids, I tell them I love them and make the most of the time I have with them," he said.
Deployments and training requirements will always mean missed birthdays and holidays, he said, so it's important for troops to share as many of them as possible when they're not deployed.
"Two feet of paperwork on your desk is no reason to miss your son's soccer game," he said. Pace encourages troops to take leave whenever possible so they can celebrate a wife's birthday, attend a child's baseball game or share in some other family occasion.
"Families serve this nation as well as anybody," Pace said. "They stand in the background, pray that we come home safely and when we do, they stay in the background and act like they had nothing to do with it. But families serve this nation as well as anybody."
"And it's important for us to recognize and remember that," he said. "We recruit individuals, but we retain families."
Pace's bottom line, the guiding principle he said he tries to live by and advises others to share, is to "take care of anybody in your life who looks to you for leadership."
Looking back on his career, Pace said he never dreamed that 39 years into his Marine Corps career, he'd be serving in the nation's top military post. It's a job that entails, not just overseeing the U.S. armed forces, but also serving as a U.S. military representative overseas, as during the past week's trip.
Rather than considering himself in that capacity as a diplomat, Pace thinks of himself as "being a military man, diplomatically." He said he's encouraged by the personal relationships he's made with foreign military leaders and the military relationships they help build.
"I try to be a very straight shooter so that if they think about Pete Pace, they know they're getting an honest discussion," he said. "If I can get to that level, you have a basis of trust."
Pace has come a long way since his commissioning day in Annapolis, or even when, while serving as a career manager at Marine Corps headquarters, he considered the chance of becoming a general officer "fairly miniscule."
"Seventy-five percent of a career is hard work, but 25 percent is good luck," he said. "And I was lucky in my career because I was put into units with good leaders."