By Jim Garamone
MOSUL, Iraq, Aug. 14, 2006 – Meeting with troops during visits to combat zones helps keep Marine General Peter Pace focused and gives him "ground truth," the general said during an interview here yesterday. A meeting with troops a day earlier at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad, turned poignant when a young lieutenant asked Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, if the U.S. military could buy more RG-31 armored vehicles.
The lieutenant commands a platoon that searches for roadside bombs in Baghdad. His unit has cleared hundreds of explosives, but recently lost a squad leader and another soldier when the armored Humvee they were driving hit an explosive device. "I have no doubt, that if they were in an RG-31, they would still be alive today," the lieutenant told the chairman.
Pace spoke to the lieutenant about efforts around the world to combat improvised explosive devices. He vowed to come back to the United States and ensure everything that can be done will be done. And he clearly empathized with the lieutenant for his loss. The young man's evident concern for his troops moved Pace, who served as a lieutenant in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
In yesterday's interview, the general said he felt "the personal pain for a leader who works that closely with subordinates and loses one of his guys." He said he admired the lieutenant's willingness to ask the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff a straightforward question. The lieutenant's question highlighted the cost of the operations in Iraq to the chairman in a very direct way. Pace said it reinforces his desire "that we continue to keep the human focus on the results of what we're doing."
He said his heart went out to the lieutenant. "He'll never forget that (soldier who was killed), which is not a bad thing -- that he never forgets," Pace said. Serving in a small unit in combat changes a leader, the chairman said. "You end up with a love of your fellow man that is a different kind of a feeling than you experience any place else," he said. "(It comes from) when your life is in their hands and their lives are in yours. When you lose somebody like that, it just has an impact on you -- and rightfully so -- that is life-defining."
Pace said he is still on active duty because of the sacrifices of so many lance corporals and corporals in the jungles of Vietnam. "I served 13 months in the field ... and never got a scratch," he said. The experience left him with a sense of responsibility to honor those who weren't so fortunate.
Pace spoke from experience when he said the young lieutenant will never forget the men he lost. When a reporter asked the general who he lost in Vietnam that caused him to continue to serve, Pace recited their names without missing a beat: "Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro, then I lost Lance Corporal Chubby Hale, Whitey Travers, Corporal Mike Witt, Corporal John Mills, Staff Sergeant Freddy Williams, and the list goes on.
"I have all of their names in my head," Pace said. "I know where they died; I can see where they died. I was holding Corporal Witt when he died. It's all resonant, very real to me and very personal in the sense of the need to serve as best I can because they can't."
He said he believes the young Army lieutenant "will always know that man's name and will always think about it, and he should -- not in a maudlin sense, not in a guilty sense, but in a respectful appreciation of sacrifice and a responsibility to not let that sacrifice go for naught."