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Commentary: In Touch With the Troops

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2007 – Audiences from fire bases in Afghanistan to five-star hotels find themselves in the same situation when they hear Marine Gen. Peter Pace speak.

Listeners get so caught up in what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is saying that they barely move.

I’ve had the privilege of traveling the world with the chairman over the past two years. I’ve seen him with heads of state and new recruits, and he treats each with the same respect and consideration.

The general is probably most comfortable talking with troops. Every time he travels, he makes it a point to meet as many American servicemembers as possible. When he speaks, he doesn’t lecture or pontificate. Instead, he simply thanks the troops for their service to the nation and then takes their questions.

The troops’ questions often are direct and go to the heart of the matter in a way that Pentagon press conferences do not. The chairman tells the troops to ask him anything they want.

“If I know the answer, I’ll tell you,” he says. “If it’s tough, I’ll pass it to the sergeant major (Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman). If we don’t know the answer, I’ll make something up. By the time you realize it, I’ll be gone.”

This always brings a laugh from the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and serves as an icebreaker.

The chairman has never failed to answer a question from a servicemember. If he doesn’t know the answer, a staff member writes the question down, and the chairman gets back to the servicemember.

The general has said on more than one occasion that the Q and A sessions with the troops are the best part of the trips. They energize him and give him windows into the morale and thinking of the forces actually doing the work of the nation.

These sessions often yield “Pace Moments.” At West Point in April 2005, Pace spoke to the cadets about what they can expect as they graduate and go to war: “If you feel fear,” he told the cadets, “it is natural." In San Antonio, he spoke to wounded servicemembers and told them, “You are not victims. You’re heroes.”

In Afghanistan earlier this month, he spoke to a unit that had lost three soldiers. He told them they needed to live their lives in honor of their lost comrades. “The names of these three soldiers will forever be emblazoned in your heads and your hearts,” he said.

Earlier this month at Chaminade High School in Mineola, N.Y., he spoke to 1,700 young men about his time in Vietnam and what it felt like when he lost his first Marine – Lance Cpl. Guido Farinaro, a 1967 graduate of that same high school.

“Because of Guido and the others I lost, I determined that I would continue to serve in the Marine Corps until I was no longer needed, and to try to serve in a way that paid respect to their lives.”

These “Pace Moments” give a glimpse of what the chairman talks about in his travels. What they don’t convey is the electricity people feel as he speaks. During my travels with the chairman, I have found him to be a man to whom honor, integrity, duty and service are not meaningless concepts. To him, those virtues are a way of life.

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Gen. Peter Pace, USMC

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