By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2006 – It was an "eerie feeling" returning to the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General Peter Pace. Pace, then the commander of U.S. Southern Command, had just been confirmed as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was in Bogota, Colombia, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.
"First, like all Americans I felt shock and anger," Pace said during a recent interview. That was followed by determination "and the certain knowledge ... that the vice chairman seat that I thought I was going to was going to be very different than what I thought."
Pace said the Colombian military reached out to him on Sept. 11. "They made sure that when my plane landed in Cartegena, where we needed to refuel, that the security was rock-solid," he said.
When Pace flew to the United States, all civilian aircraft had been ordered to land. Military air traffic controllers were handling all flights in the United States. "We experienced flying back in to the United States under (North American Aerospace Defense Command) control rather than the normal civilian controllers," Pace said.
When he landed in Miami, his was the only airplane at the airport that was moving. "There were all of those things that were totally eerie and disjointed from what you would expect from any normal day," he said.
The events of Sept. 11 certainly changed his job as vice chairman, a position he held for four years before becoming chairman. Normally, the vice chairman deals with budgeting, weapons systems acquisition and the like, Pace said. "I spent my four years as General (Richard B.) Myers' deputy for the war," he said. "I spent my time helping General Myers craft the advice he was giving here in Washington."
The events also took Pace back to his military roots: going to war in Vietnam after his commissioning in 1967.
"Now, almost 40 years later, the country is at war again. That's the bad news," he said. "The good news is we have tremendous young men and women who serve this country exceptionally well. We will do what we must do to defend our country and make sure that our families and all American get to live in freedom."