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Pace speaks with U.S. servicemembers on Guam

  • Published
  • By Linda D. Kozaryn
  • American Forces Press Service
Marine Gen. Peter Pace prides himself on "speaking truth" as he knows it, and servicemembers here had a chance today to hear the military's highest ranking officer speak about regional threats, the war in Iraq and a variety of other concerns.
Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopped here overnight on his way to Singapore to attend the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Asia Security Conference. He took the opportunity to address about 500 airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines, thanking them for their service so far from home and stressing the importance of their duty in Guam.
"Certainly, the day-to-day fight is in Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps in the Horn of Africa," Pace told the troops, "but the fact of the matter is that Guam figures hugely in all of our strategic planning. For example, as we take ground assets from the Pacific theater, to go fight this war, the importance of what's here in Guam increases dramatically."
While there is no current threat in the region, he said, anyone considering posing a threat must take into account the military capacity on the U.S. island territory more than 3,000 miles southwest of Hawaii.
"The planes that are out here, the ships that port call here, and all the special things that happen from Guam are strategically important to the United States," he said.
Such assets ensure the U.S. balance of power remains sufficient to be a strong deterrent.
After his brief remarks about Guam, Pace opened the floor to questions from the troops. He offered one of his signature coins to the first person to ask a question, joking that it would be worth about $5,000 on an online auction site. An Air Force sergeant took the plunge, got the coin and was first at the microphone.
He asked the chairman about growing capabilities in the region that might threaten U.S. satellites. Pace replied that China now has the capacity to shoot down U.S. satellites, but whether that represents a threat depends on China's intent. Threats are a combination of capacity and intent," he said, and "right now, China's capacity is certainly growing."
"It's natural for any nation's military to modernize, to become more efficient, to get better at what they're doing," he said. "In and of itself, I don't consider that a threat. The capacity they now have to shoot down satellites is something we need to think through as to how we would overcome or adjust to that capacity."
Pace said one of his responsibilities is to make recommendations to allocate resources to overcome a potential adversary's advantage in one area or another.
"Without any intent on the part of China to do us harm right now," he said, "we still need to understand that they have some capacities that are new, emerging and we need to understand how we would work around those if we ever had to."
Responding to a question about the buildup of Marines on Guam, Pace said the plan to transfer 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2010 is on track. The Japanese government has agreed to contribute $6 billion of the estimated $10 billion cost, and U.S. officials continue working with local officials on the need for additional infrastructure.
"There are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that need to fall into place," Pace said. "I think you'll see this unfold at whatever speed (in keeping with) the environmental impact statements and the ability to build the buildings."
Five or 10 years down the road, Guam will be even more important than it is today. "I see a very bright future, from a military standpoint, for Guam. I believe that the influx of that $10 billion dollars, plus the influx of billions of dollars that will flow in over the years will be good for the local economy."
Asked about his personal thoughts on "the surge," the current buildup of troops in Iraq, Pace assured the troops that his personal and professional thoughts are one.
"They should be identical, otherwise I should be in another job," he stressed. "My responsibility is to give my best military advice. I cannot imagine having a professional military opinion be different than my heart of hearts.
"My responsibility," he said, "is to make sure they are the same and to speak truth as I know it to the president, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council, Homeland Security Council and the Congress when asked."
Pace said he has told the nation's leaders the following:
"Any number of troops, whether it be 20,000 or 100,000, would make no difference at all if all they do is go in, do what we were doing, and come out, without commensurate surges in governance on the part of the Iraqis and economic development on the part of the international community," Pace said.
"But if there is going to be a commitment by the Iraqi government to 'surge' their activities, and if there's going to be a commitment by our own government to get with other governments to help with the economy, then the surge makes sense because you do need security for the first two things to happen," Pace said. "But the security is not going to last unless those other two things do happen."
Pace said that progress made to date in Iraq's Anbar province is evidence that the surge can work. Last year at this time, al Qaeda had a wide presence there, and things were not going well.
This year, he said, all the signs are good, not because of more coalition troops, but because the local sheiks said they wanted al Qaeda out of their territory and they were willing to work with the coalition and central government to make it happen. Because of that change by local leaders, thousands of young men are being encouraged to join their local army to push al Qaeda out.
"That's making all the difference in the world," Pace said. "This is why I believe the current surge in forces is capable of providing enough additional security if the local leaders and national leaders in Iraq say they want to succeed and they get their followers to follow them down a peaceful path instead of a destructive one."
An Air Force chief master sergeant asked how top leaders plan to take care of servicemembers with post-traumatic stress disorder. Pace noted that part of the reason health professionals are seeing more PTSD is because people now know what symptoms to look for.
Military medical officials are paying attention, and the services are conducting interviews to identify troops who may have signs of the disorder, he said. However, initial interviews prior to homecoming may not be the most revealing, he added.
"It's not inconceivable that Sergeant Pace coming back from Iraq does not want to get slowed down in going home by saying yes to a question that if he answered no, (might delay) him getting back to his family," the chairman said.
It's also possible that the servicemember doesn't yet know he or she has a problem, he said. This is why follow-up three-month and six-month interviews are so important.
"We also need to do a better job of educating family members about what to look for in their loved ones," he said. "Education is key to identifying symptoms early."
Military leaders also are looking at reducing the stress of repeat deployments, the chairman said. The goal is to increase servicemembers' time at home. Right now, soldiers spend 15 months deployed and 12 months home. The goal is to have ground forces deploy for one year and spend two years home.
Defense officials are increasing the size of the force by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines, he said, but this will take time. "There are some real-world constraints on how fast we can build this force inside the all-volunteer military."
Military leaders are working to reduce the numbers of brigades deployed, Pace said. Currently, 33 brigade equivalents are deployed: 28 in Iraq, three in Afghanistan, one in Kosovo, and one in Korea.
All of these things are important to reducing stress on the force and on individual servicemembers, he said.
After about an hour of questions and answers that ranged from a sailor's question on pay to equipping the National Guard, the audience gave the chairman a standing ovation, and Pace wrapped up his visit by giving each servicemember one of his signature coins.

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