Gen. Pace rejected retiring as Joint Chiefs chairman

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Marine Gen. Peter Pace said that he had turned down an offer to voluntarily retire rather than be forced out as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

To quit in wartime, he said, would be letting down the troops.

Gen. Pace, responding to a question from the audience after he spoke at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk on Thursday night, said he first heard that his expected nomination for a second two-year term was in jeopardy in mid-May.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on June 8 announced Gen. Pace was being replaced.

“One thing that was discussed was whether or not I should just voluntarily retire and take the issue off the table,” Gen. Pace said, according to a transcript released yesterday by his office at the Pentagon.

“I said I could not do that for one very fundamental reason,” which is that no soldier or Marine in Iraq should “think — ever — that his chairman, whoever that person is, could have stayed in the battle and voluntarily walked off the battlefield.

“That is unacceptable as a leadership thing, in my mind,” he added.

Gen. Pace, whose current term ends Oct. 1, said he intended to remain on the job until then. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen has been announced as President Bush’s choice to succeed Gen. Pace, who is the first Marine ever to hold the military’s top post.

A Vietnam veteran, Gen. Pace indicated in his Norfolk comments that his experience in that war colored his decision not to quit voluntarily.

“The other piece for me personally was that some 40 years ago I left some guys on the battlefield in Vietnam who lost their lives following Second Lieutenant Pace,” he said. “And I promised myself then that I will serve this country until I was no longer needed — that it’s not my decision. I need to be told that I’m done.

“I’ve been told I’m done.”

Gen. Pace was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the run-up to the Iraq war. In October 2005 he succeeded Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers as Joint Chiefs chairman, and until recently had largely been spared the war-related criticism that senior civilian officials attracted.

The decision to sideline Gen. Pace came as a surprise, since Mr. Gates had previously indicated privately that he intended to recommend that the president renominate him. In his remarks in Norfolk, Gen. Pace confirmed that Mr. Gates had told him he preferred to keep him as chairman but in mid-May began to see signs of opposition on Capitol Hill.

When he announced the decision June 8, Mr. Gates said that after consulting with members of the Senate he concluded that sticking with Gen. Pace would risk a Senate confirmation struggle focusing on the Iraq war.

“It would be a backward-looking and very contentious process,” Mr. Gates said. At the same time, he made clear he had made his decision with reluctance, saying he wished it had not been necessary.

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