Lynne Pace Reflects on 40 Years’ Service to Family, Country
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2007 Nearly 40 years ago, Lynne Pace dedicated her life to her family. Little did she know at the time that her family ultimately would include the nation’s 2.4 million servicemembers.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace and his wife Lynne are introduced during an evening parade hosted by Pace at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., July 13, 2007. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, U.S. Air Force
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Little did she know that the young Marine officer she married would go on to become the first Marine to serve as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military’s top ranking officer.
Today, Lynne and her husband, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, are retiring from military service. Their commitment to their extended family won’t end with today’s ceremony at Fort Myer, Va., however. They say their love for and dedication to the men and women who make up the armed forces will last a lifetime.
During the general’s last news briefing at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Pace “cut his teeth on the battlefields of Vietnam, made his way up through the ranks during the Cold War, and these past few years, has led our military in a very different, very complex war against jihadist terrorism.”
Through it all, Gates noted, Pace has never once forgotten about the individual men and women who make up the United States armed forces. As Pace himself often points out, this includes the military families who “serve the country as well as anyone who’s ever worn a uniform.”
Through it all, Lynne has been at her husband’s side, serving as his teammate and as an advocate for military families working to improve the military community they’ve chosen to live in.
“We’ve worked and grown together for 36 years,” Lynne told American Forces Press Service. “I’m pretty old-fashioned, and he’s an amazing guy. We’re partners. We’re a team.”
In 1967, Lynne fell in love with Pete Pace while he was attending the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. The couple dated for four years before marrying in 1971, two years after Pace returned from Vietnam.
Lynne said she had learned little about the military growing up in Ellicott City, Md. Her husband’s assignment here at the Marine Barracks at 8th and I Street, she said, was her first experience with a military unit that “was like a big family.”
While Pace attended the Infantry Officers Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Ga., the couple lived off base, where Lynne came to know her civilian neighbors rather than the military community. When Pace attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College at Quantico, Va., the couple lived on base, where Lynne became involved with the military wives group.
“Back then, the wives ran child care centers, so I got to know other moms,” she recalled. “We’d work together to get the things we needed for the families.”
Lynne said she’s always tried to heed her husband’s advice to grow where you are planted.
“I am not an extrovert,” she said. “I am not one who will go out seeking people. But if you tell me I can’t do something for my child, or if a friend of mine’s child is having a hard time, I’ll fight whatever it takes for the kids.”
As her husband rose through the ranks, Lynne gradually learned about the role of a military spouse. “I had no clue what was expected of me at first,” she said.
She said she knew she wanted to help her husband do his job and found that helping the families helped him in his role, as well.
When Pace deployed to Okinawa, Japan, and Lynne stayed behind, she learned to deal with cars breaking down, refrigerators needing repairs and other household problems. During the family’s frequent moves to new duty stations, she learned to do things on her own and to ask for help when she needed it.
“The hardest thing is to learn to say, ‘I can’t do this,’ and then ask somebody to help,” she said.
“You’re not alone,” Lynne said she advises military spouses. “There are other military spouses out there to help you.”
Overall, she said, military spouses need to be “adaptable, determined, independent and resourceful.”
“Military spouses are thrown into environments where those kinds of things really do mean a lot,” she added. “Every move is an adventure. Every challenge is a growth experience.”
Lynne said the couple’s son, Peter, and daughter, Tiffany Marie, benefited from growing up within the military community.
“In many ways they are more mature because military children are thrown into different environments every time they move,” she explained. “They’re more adaptable. They’ve been to places that a lot of people who grow up in the same town never have the opportunity to go to. In many ways, those are great advantages.”
On the other hand, she noted, these benefits can be seen as disadvantages. “The schools change. You’re recreating yourself every year or two or three. Many children move during high school, which is a very difficult time to move. Some children will go to three different high schools and that’s really hard. You’re always leaving your friends, and you’re always making new friends. You learn and grow from that, but it’s also hard to do.”
Still, based on the number of children of military parents who choose to serve in the military, she said, “It can’t be all that bad.”
For Lynne, one of the rewards of military life was getting to meet people all over the world. “Living in Japan for two years, seeing a culture that’s so different from ours, learning that deep down we’re all the same -- we may have cultural differences, but we all love our children. We all love our country.
“It has been a huge growth experience for me,” Lynne said. “The education I earned along the way has given me incredible confidence in my ability to go out and deal with presidents and queens and some pretty amazing people. The opportunities we’ve had to represent our country overseas have been incredible.”
Military support for families has changed significantly since Lynne joined the community, she said. Today, family support groups and family readiness officers help families cope during deployments. Family support centers provide videoconference capabilities so families can make videos to send to their military members. Various groups organize pre- and post-deployment briefings for spouses, as well as picnics, movie nights and parties for children.
“The military has learned that if the families are happy, deployments are easier,” she said. “If you can help the families take care of the problems that they have, then it makes it easier for the military members as well as the families at home.”
She encouraged military commanders to take the time to thank military families for the sacrifices they’re enduring so their military members can serve. “Without the spouses’ support at home, they can’t do it. The expression ‘If Momma ain’t happy, ain't nobody happy’ is true. Because the deployments are long and frequent; it’s hard.
“I think everybody, military commanders, civilians -- we all need to thank these families. We’re thanking our troops. We need to remember our families. If your next door neighbor is serving in the military, think about what can you do to say thanks. Watch the kids; give them a spa day; fix the car -- do something to say thanks,”
As Pace assumed more responsibilities, Lynne said, her role changed as well. “People expect more from you. They expect you to know the answers to everything, but in fact you don’t,” she said.
“But as his job changes, you have more access to people to get answers to questions you might not have been able to have two jobs ago or two ranks ago,” she said. “People will listen to what you have to say because of who he is. If that’s what it takes to get somebody to help, then that’s OK. I don’t believe rank equates to royalty, but I do believe that if his rank can help somebody, that’s a good thing. Then I’ll use it.”
At times, being the chairman’s wife can be a help or a hindrance, she said. “What I do (to help troops and families), I try to do really quietly. Who he is can help me do what I do. But because of who he is, a lot of people won’t tell me what they need. But because of who he is, I have more access.”
A couple of years ago, for example, some hospitalized troops told Lynne they needed computers. “I had a friend that asked me what he could do for the troops, so we were able to get computers,” she said.
“There’s a young man who wants to go to law school,” she said, “so through people we’ve been fortunate to meet along the way, people who want to help have ensured money is available for him to pay tuition, room and board and books to go to law school after he’s finished his medical care.”
Over the years, Lynne has learned about organizations that help troops and their families. “If a family needs a place to stay, I know people to ask who can help them out,” she said.
She knows who to contact when wounded troops arrive at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., without clothing or when families arrive at the hospital in June but don’t leave until January and they didn’t bring winter clothes with them.
“There are people out there who are willing to help,” she said. “They’ll ask me what they can do, and I’ll tell them the families need coats or shoes, or the troops need DVD players or movies. These things seem small and unimportant, but they’re not to the wounded and their families who are going through this.”
Lynne said she believes all Americans have a responsibility to help servicemembers and their families in any way they can. “We’re a country at war; we all need to do something,” she said.
Lynne regularly visits troops at military medical centers in the Washington, D.C., area, throughout the states, and overseas when she travels with the chairman.
“Sometimes I drive home from the hospital sobbing the whole way home,” she admitted. “Other times I’m thinking about the people I’ve talked to who want to do certain things. I try to stay positive. Every visit is different. But when you leave, you know it’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t take a lot to go hug somebody and thank them.”
She described wounded troops’ attitudes as “unbelievable -- their will to get better, to do something productive with their lives, and their desire to go back and finish the job and be with their buddies.”
“The first time I went (to visit wounded troops in a hospital), I was just awestruck,” she said. “Somebody asked, ‘Where do we get these kids?’ and the response was ‘Hometown USA.’ These are the sons and daughters of Americans out there who have taught them to help others so they can have a better life.
“I think that’s what keeps me going,” Lynne concluded. “They are just so positive. Yes, they have their bad days, but for the most part, they’re looking at tomorrow. If I can help them do that, I want to.”