CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Service members packed into the theatre here to see the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, who visited Aug. 13.
Pace personally thanked every service member who attended the procession.
During the speech, Pace told the service members “that while not everybody back home supports the war, they all support you as individuals.”
He told service members that Americans without uniforms back home were helping fight the war as well - the families, friends and loved ones of those serving abroad.
“The people at home that are waiting for you, they are doing as much for the country as those in uniform,” Pace said.
After his initial speech, Pace opened up the floor to a question and answer forum
where he told service members he would answer every inquiry he could and if he did not know the answer, he joked, he would make one up.
The 16th chairman answered the service members questions about Iraq disintegrating into a civil war.
“The Iraqi problem lies with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government,” Pace said. “It is sectarian violence; it is Shia killing Sunni, and Sunni killing Shia, not armies fighting armies, or police fighting police.”
Being the senior member in the armed forces, Pace answered questions about the situations between Israel and Lebanon, as well as the circumstances between the United States and Iran and North Korea.
The four-star general wanted to make sure one thing was clear. “We are ready to take any defensive action to protect our country,” Pace said. “It is better that we fight the enemy on their 5-yard line.”
When a Marine asked the 60-year-old Marine general when troops should look forward to leaving Iraq, Pace responded as long as it takes the Iraqi government and its people to gain control of their country.
He added that progress is being made, the Iraqi government has developed a constitution and established a democracy much faster than the United States did 231 years ago.
About the fighting in Iraq, Pace said that “we either continue to fight the battle of those who want to destroy our way of life overseas, or we fight it in Washington or Chicago.”
After the speech and questions, Pace closed the assembly the same way he opened it, by thanking the troops who sat before him.
In a unique show of appreciation, the general shook hands with and passed out personalized challenge coins to about 500 junior service members.
“In my 26 years, this was the first time I’ve seen that,” said 1st Sgt. Daryl C. Watkins, first sergeant, Headquarters and Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “General officers usually pass out two or three coins, but this was awesome.”
“I thought it was inspiring, motivating, it really surprised me, and it was very generous of the general,” said Lance Cpl. Isaac Escarcega, of receiving his personalized Pace challenge coin.
Escarcega, a motor transportation operator with I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, Truck Company, and the rest of the service members in the theatre were all invited to greet and take group pictures with the general.
Paces’ visit to Camp Fallujah was a welcome and much appreciated part of the chairman’s two-day stop in Iraq.
“(Pace) coming here with what’s been going on in the past week, it’s awesome for the young Marines, and to be able to see him in theatre, it’s just awesome,” said Watkins.
Pace was appointed 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Sept. 30, 2005, and was the first Marine to hold that title. He graduated the United States Naval Academy and was commissioned as a Marine 2nd lieutenant in June 1967.