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Marine Gen. Peter Pace: Witness to Change

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has watched the military evolve over the past 35 years. During a recent interview with the American Forces Press Service, Pace talked of the changes he's seen and of the changes yet to come. Here is the first in a three-part series on the general's views.

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2002 -- When Peter Pace received his commission as a Marine Corps officer 35 years ago, the Naval Academy graduate from Teaneck, N.J., entered a military far different from that of today.

Back then, each service was separate unto itself, much of the overall force was made up of draftees and the nation faced a conventional enemy.

As Pace progressed from a rifle platoon leader in Vietnam to his current position as the military's second highest- ranking officer, the soft-spoken, slightly built Marine witnessed dramatic changes within the nation's armed forces.

Today, joint operations are the norm, volunteer recruits have replaced conscripts and the nation faces a shadowy enemy that employs tools of terror.

During a recent interview with American Forces Press Service, Pace, the first Marine to serve as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked of the change he's witnessed and of the transformation now under way in the military. The four-star general said the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 caused "enormous change."

The act centralized operational authority through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than the service chiefs. The chairman became the principal military adviser to the president, National Security Council and defense secretary. The act also established the position of vice chairman and streamlined the operational chain of command from the president to the defense secretary to the unified commanders.

Pace was a lieutenant colonel when Congress passed Goldwater-Nichols. "In my first 16 years of service," he recalled, "I knew that the U.S. Marine Corps was the world's best fighting force. The culture was such that you believed your service was the best." Kept in perspective, he noted, this type of esprit de corps is beneficial.

"To believe that the battalion you're in right now is better than any other battalion in your service, and to believe that your service is better than any other service in the U.S. armed forces, that's a good thing," he said. "What wasn't good was the fact that it was a condescending outlook toward the other services."

This was primarily due to a lack of knowledge about the other services, he noted. Service members in one branch knew little about those in another.

"Goldwater-Nichols forced us to operate together," Pace said. "By doing so, all of a sudden you started to find out, 'Oh, the Army knows what they're doing. The Air Force knows what they're doing. The Navy knows what they're doing.' They do it differently, but they know what they're doing. Then we learned, 'Oh, we can trust them. They'll actually deliver what they say they're going to deliver.'"

Congress virtually forced the services to work together, Pace said, by tying promotions to serving a joint tour. "Once we started serving joint tours together, we started figuring out -- by living with each other and working with each other -- that these are all good Americans who may approach the problem from a different perspective, but are all focused on getting the same thing done."

The result was an enormous shift away from focusing only on one's own service, Pace stressed. "Now, you work very hard in your own service. You're very proud of your own service. But you appreciate and value what the other services bring to that table."

This was a "huge sea change," he said, adding that things now are done unilaterally only a small percentage of the time. "The vast majority of the time, things are being done joint, which is a complete switch from the early 1980s," he said.

The war on terrorism has highlighted the need for the same type of change within the interagency community, according to the vice chairman.

"We need to get that same kind of trust in the working relationship amongst the departments of the government," he said. "The interagency process is certainly collegial, but it does not yet have the opportunities to serve together as frequently as the branches of the service do, so you don't have the same opportunities to get to know each other."

In combating terrorism, he stressed, the Defense, Treasury, Justice and State departments, and the FBI and CIA "have to pull together."

"We're being forced into that by virtue of the war, and we need to take this opportunity to figure out what organizational changes we may need to make inside the government to facilitate better cooperation," he explained. "Everybody is coming to the table wanting to share. We just don't have the same mechanisms yet that we've had inside the military since 1986 to make it easy to cooperate."

The interagency process needs to employ a mechanism similar to the joint task force the military uses, Pace said. "I'm not saying we need to have a command and control entity like that in the interagency process," he said, "but you have to have something that, at each level, is a mechanism that people know exists and that is the same everywhere."

Establishing a joint environment had a huge impact on the military, Pace said, as did the change from draftees to volunteers.

"Without being pejorative about it," he said, "some folks in the baseline when there was conscription, didn't want to be in the baseline. As a result of that, you spent a portion of your leadership time working with problems that came from somebody just working someplace they'd rather not be working."

Not all volunteers find what they thought they would, he said. "The vast majority do," Pace continued. "They understand in their heart of hearts that they volunteered to do this and that they've got a commitment. So you spend very little time working with individuals who are unhappy with their job selection. You can then devote a lot more of your time to other things.

"And because they have volunteered, it is a lifestyle that they think they may want to try," he said. "So you have a very willing force that wants to be educated, that wants to learn and wants to do things right. That has made it much more efficient as far as training the force. As far as the military is concerned, the all-recruited force is significantly better than the conscripted force."

The war on terrorism has also brought about a change in attitude among those who choose to serve. "As bad as the attacks on 11 September were," Pace said, "I think each of us feels that what we are doing now is critical to our nation's survival.

"There was a period of time after the demise of the Soviet Union, but before Sept. 11, when those of us in uniform felt really good about what we were doing. But there was no threat on the horizon that looked like it could do damage to our country," Pace said. "We felt good about being in the best military in the world, and we felt good about coming to work, but because we had a very strong military, we didn't have any worries really."

That all changed when terrorists slammed passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Terrorism is something, Pace said, that could damage our country.

"This is happening in Washington. It's happening in New York City. It's happening in Pennsylvania," he said. "It could happen elsewhere. I think it really refocused all of us on the value of what we do for our country and perhaps it instills a pride in you that you are serving your country at a time when your country needs you to serve."

The sacrifices of military life become easier to bear when the threat is real, he said.

"You are serving your country," he said. "You are putting your family through strains, which we do, and you say to yourself, 'OK, I've served four years, there's nothing out there that's really a threat. I've done my duty. I'm not going to put my family through this kind of pain anymore. I'm going to go out and see if I can do something different.'

"That's a different mindset than 'I've served my four years. I've put my family through this pain, but there's a real threat to my country. Therefore, this level of discomfort for my family is a sacrifice that we should continue to make, and therefore I'm going to re-enlist.' It's a whole different platform to be standing on when deciding if you're going to go left or go right with your own personal future."

The war on terrorism has also highlighted the role America's reserve forces now play in defending the nation. "There's not a single thing we're doing that does not require the reserves and National Guard to participate," Pace noted. "It's the way we've designed ourselves.

"Once you put the uniform on a guy, unless you ask, you're not going to know if they're active or reserve," he said. "I think that's really good because they come in, they sit down and they go to work. They're competent, they know what they're doing and they fit right in. That to me is a tremendous compliment to the reserves themselves and to our system."

Pace pointed out that the more senior reservists become in grade, the more difficult it becomes to continue to serve. "You have to start finding other organizations as a lieutenant colonel, colonel or general where you can go do your weekend drill." Many of these senior leaders spend more money out of their own pockets just to get to an organization than they receive in drill pay, he said.

"My respect for the Reserve corps and National Guard is complete," Pace said, "but the more senior they are, both enlisted and officer, the more respect I have for them because I realize now the enormous amount of personal energy and resources it takes to continue to be able to serve their country."

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