Pace Thanks Spouses, Families for Sacrifices in War on Terror

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SCHWEINFURT, Germany, July 20, 2007 - Over the past week, Marine Gen. Peter Pace personally thanked thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for their service. Today he traveled to this German city to thank their spouses for the very real sacrifices they and their families make in the war on terror.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff began his remarks at Conn Barracks with a simple statement: "Thank you for your service to the country."

The post here has soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division deployed to Baghdad, and paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team deployed in Afghanistan. Both brigades will serve 15 months in combat.

Pace said the success of the soldiers is heavily dependent on the support the families give them.

"What I learned about families I learned most of all in my own kitchen," the general said. "When we deploy, you stay here and you pray we come home safe. You don't know when we're in trouble, therefore you worry every day.

"When we do come home safe, you stand in the background as we get our awards and you pretend you have nothing to do with it," he continued. "You had everything to do with it.

"When we get tired, you remind us of how important what we do is to you, to our families and to the nation. I've watched military families for 40 years. You serve this nation as well as anyone who has worn the uniform. I'm proud to stand before you and thank you for all you do to keep our nation free."

Pace said he owed them an explanation for why he recommended extending the deployment of the brigades from 12 months to 15. "If we had not extended your loved ones, they would be coming home much sooner than they are," he said.

The chairman traced the thinking that went into the decision. He said in January 2006, officials expected the number of U.S. brigades to drop from 15 to 10 by the end of the year. But in February, al Qaeda bombed the Golden Mosque in Samarra ? a holy shrine to the Shiia branch of Islam.

Sectarian violence broke out and many Iraqis died in the unrest. By July 2006, it became apparent that the number of brigades would have to remain constant or even go up, Pace said.

Studies in September through November 2006 led to the decision to surge five brigade combat teams into Baghdad and its suburbs. He said the plan called for increasing the number of troops, along with the international community increasing economic development and the Iraqis making political progress.

"As we thought through how we were going to do that, we started to see that a brigade would be extended by 45 days, and another by 73 days and another by such and such amount of time," he said. "We were on a system where, about 90 days before folks were due to come home, we would then tell that unit that they were going to come home on time, or they would be extended X number of days.

"That just jerked people around," he continued. "It also did not let us plan long-term for the units coming in after that."

The right thing to do was to extend all active duty Army units going into the country to 15-month tours, he said. "So when you change the calendar on the refrigerator door, you did it once instead of every other week," Pace told the spouses. "You could have some kind of stability and knowledge of what was going to happen."

Their sacrifice has not been in vain, Pace told the spouses. The added troops have made a big difference on the battlefields of Iraq.

"We were walking the streets of Ramadi three days ago," he said. "Three months ago if you had told me I was going to be walking in the streets of Ramadi without fear of being shot at, I'd have told you that you were nuts."

In a question and answer session, Pace stressed the 15-month limit. One young wife wanted to know if the military was going to change its mind and extend the soldiers yet again.

"No more than 15 months. No more than 15 months," Pace stressed. "I'm dedicated to that; (Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates) is dedicated to that. Everybody in the Army leadership is dedicated to that, and we are focused on that."

The spouses were pleased with Pace's visit and remarks. "I'm surprised the general came here," said Clara Gaskins. "We're not exactly a crossroads of the world. He answered many of the questions that I hear people ask. We are all very concerned about the deployment length. Fifteen months is a long time. Some of the young families have babies and they'll be toddlers when the spouses come home."

Another spouse said she is willing to make the sacrifices, but wants to know if it is worth it. "We've lost many soldiers lately," Michelle Garner said. "We want to know if they are making a difference.(Pace) put that in perspective."

Pace said just having a chance to meet with the spouses was important to him.

"I told them that our families are as much a part of the defense of the United States as any of us who have the privilege of wearing the uniform," he said.

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