Today’s Troops Reassure Outgoing Chairman
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, Sept. 14, 2007 A young Army sergeant in Afghanistan recently reassured the nation’s highest-ranking four-star general that it’s OK to retire after 40 years on active duty.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace talks with 1,200 military and civilian members of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Sept. 14, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the story today during a town hall meeting with about 1,200 troops at U.S. Southern Command headquarters here. He retires at the end of the month.
“I was talking to a group of soldiers, and I was telling them that I was sad that I was leaving, not because I’m leaving, but because I won’t have the chance to reach out and hug troops in uniform any more,” Pace told the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
“At the end, I was standing there, and I wish I had been smart enough to catch this soldier’s name,” he continued. “He came up to me and he said, ‘Sir, thanks for your service. We’ll take it from here.’”
“It was a perfect thing for him to say, and he was right,” Pace concluded.
The same message came through loud and clear, he noted, when he made his last visit to a unit in a combat zone.
Pace chose to visit Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, as the last thing he would do on active duty in combat. The visit would bring his career full circle, as his first assignment in the Marine Corps was in Vietnam as the platoon leader of G Company’s 2nd Platoon.
He found the Marines in Karmah, Iraq.
“We rumbled out there in a convoy and sat around for about an hour and a half just talking and taking pictures,” Pace said, noting that the visit was a “bookend” on his career that provided a sense of closure.
“My platoon had 14 guys left in it when I took command,” he said. The Marines in Iraq “were standing there about 40 strong -- great, young guys, sharp-eyed, with clear vision, energized, and proud of what they were doing.
“Their platoon leader -- who was in my job, standing in my spot -- (was) a former sergeant who had gotten a Silver Star Medal during a previous tour in Iraq, got commissioned and was back there now as a platoon leader,” he said.
“I was looking at these Marines, saying to myself, ‘What that Army sergeant told me two days before in Afghanistan, was absolutely true. All of our services are in great shape.
“My sadness (about leaving) is all about a selfish desire to continue to wear the uniform and serve the nation,” he said. “My happiness, as that great sergeant said, is that you all will take it from here.”
Closing his remarks, the chairman then took questions from the Southern Command troops.
When a female soldier asked, “What are you going to do next?’ he replied, “The honest answer is, I don’t have a clue,” drawing laughter from the troops.
“It’s not because there aren’t opportunities out there,” he explained. “Some very nice folks have asked me to talk with them, and I’ve asked them all to please wait until after 1 October.
“I cannot possibly be thinking about my next life and finish this life properly,” he said. “I’m going to run through the finish line. I’m going to pay attention to Pfc. Pace in Baghdad and Iraq and Miami as best I can and continue to contribute until midnight on 30 September.”
At the chairman’s invitation, more than 1,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, family members, contractors, and even local police, then stood in line to shake hands with Peter Pace.