Photo: U.S. Pentagon
When Gen. Peter Pace isn't overseeing the U.S. military as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, he's talking baseball with us. In this interview the four-star general recollects fondly his time as a less-than-stellar Little League rightfielder and how baseball prepared him for a life in the military. For more cool stuff on the Little League World Series check out Active's The Road to Williamsport special section.
Tough question first: growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey--were you a Dodger or a Yankee fan? Dodgers! In fact, when the Dodgers left Brooklyn I bought a 1-inch square of Ebbets Field for about three dollars and planted it in my backyard.
How did you get over the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn? I haven't. (Laughs) I'm still waiting for them to come home.
You should be able to pull some strings with your position. I'm trying to! I told Tom Lasorda, when I had the privilege to meet him two years ago, I was still waiting for him to bring back the Dodgers to where they belong. Still waiting.
Do you remember the name of your Little League team? Alvin's Pharmacy. Don't ask me why I remember that. It was a pharmacy on Cedar Lane in Teaneck and they sponsored the team. I must've been 11 or 12 years old
What position did you play? Mostly bench. When they actually let me on the field it was usually in right field where I couldn't do too much damage.
What do you think it is about Little League Baseball that has woven it into the fabric of American culture? I think it's a wonderful sport for young kids to learn how to be part of a team. To hone their skills. To let parents cheer their kids on. It's a hometown event.
Does playing on a baseball team and serving in the military have any parallels? A lot in my opinion--especially the teamwork part. No baseball team is going to win with just one player and no military team is either. As long as everybody, regardless of skill level, is giving it their very best the team is going to make out okay.
What was it like attending the Little League World Series in Williamsport when you were inducted into the Hall of Excellence? It was wonderful. First of all, the skill level of the youngsters was amazing. Secondly, the day I was there they honored a man named Staff Sergeant Wilbert Davis who actually played in the Little League World Series and was killed in Iraq. It was a really special moment for me to be there when a soldier who had given his life for our country was also honored.
Do you still follow baseball? Not too much. The last game I went to was at Wrigley Field with my son. There are just some great baseball stadiums. Wrigley is one. Camden Yards is another. As you go through life it becomes real special to go to parks like that. I thoroughly enjoy it.
What attracted you to military service? I was interested in going to the submarines. So I went to the Naval Academy, and after four years there I decided I was better off being a U.S. Marine rather than being in the submarines. And it made all the difference in my life.
There was a war going on at the time, which was the Vietnam War. I felt I had a responsibility to pay back the nation that I was lucky enough to be born in. What has kept me in it is the incredible quality of the men and women in the armed services. It's amazing what they do for our country.
How did it feel to be the first Marine to be appointed the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the highest-ranking military officer in the country? It felt great, but not because of ego. Certainly there's some ego involved. But if I am the first Marine chairman it's because I'm standing on the shoulders of our Marine Corps. It was an incredible honor.
Of all the medals and accomplishments you've achieved--and there are many--which one are you most proud of? Is it being named chairman? No, I think being a rifle platoon leader in Vietnam would be the thing I'm most proud of. Because that's when I was closest to my men, and where I learned the things that made me want to stay in the Marine Corps.
You hold an MBA from George Washington University. How is running a business similar to running the U.S. military? I don't know yet. My entire adult life I've been wearing a uniform of the United States Marine Corps. I'm getting close to the end of my active career so I'm beginning my transition. You may want to ask me that question in a year.
If you can--without giving away any classified information--take us through a 'typical' day as chairman of the joint chiefs. I get up at 5:30 a.m. I'm in the office by 6:30 a.m. Normally on the way in the car I'm reading Intel that's come in overnight. From 6:30 to 6:45 I'm talking to my CIA representative, who is briefing me on stuff they couldn't put on paper. Around 7 o'clock I have a staff meeting with all the senior officers.
If it's a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, I'm on my way to the White House for meetings with the President. If it's Tuesday or Thursday, I'm going into meetings with the Secretary of Defense. The rest of the day is spent listening to briefings on whatever the issues of the day are. That's if we are in Washington. If I'm out traveling its a lot more fun than that. I get to go out and see the troops. Hug them. Thank them. See their families and visit the hospitals overseas. Those kinds of things to me are rewarding.