WASHNGTON — Navy Adm. Michael Mullen and Marine Gen. Peter Pace offered different visions of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday at the ceremony that marked Mullen's ascendancy to the top U.S. military post and Pace's retirement from it.
Mullen, in his first act as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of the day the United States will leave Iraq and Afghanistan and said the United States must "be ready for who and what comes after."
Pace, who sworn Mullen in as his last official act as chairman, defended his controversial tenure, saying the United States was in two wars because "the enemy . . . has declared war on us."
Mullen, the former chief of naval operations, has criticized the military's performance of the war at times and has fretted publicly about the strain that two wars have put on an all-volunteer military. Pace, who wasn't reappointed because of objections in Congress, has steadfastly backed the military's performance.
The change-of-command ceremony took place at Fort Myer, Va. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld attended.
In his previous post, Mullen had little experience in Iraq. But he alluded Monday to the strain that the wars have been on the military, especially the Army. Of the more than 519,000 soldiers who have served in Iraq, 200,000 have done more than one tour of duty.
Last week, Gen. George Casey, the chief of staff for the Army, warned that the Army couldn't handle another conflict. Mullen said he'd address that in his new post.
"We reset, reconstitute and revitalize our armed forces, especially our ground forces, and we properly balance our risks around the globe. So fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will one day end; we must be ready for who and what comes after. That's the promise we've made," Mullen said.
"We owe it to the American people and to all of you, our men and women in uniform and your families, to provide you with the clear direction, outstanding equipment and focused policies you need to do your job."
Pace, who'd served as either the vice chairman or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since October 2001, has been at the center of every major military move of Bush's presidency, including the decision to invade Iraq. Some war critics have complained that he didn't speak up as it became clear that U.S. military strategy wasn't working there.
Pace refuted that, however, turning to President Bush and thanking him for listening to various viewpoints. He blasted calls to withdraw quickly or set a timeline to withdraw.
"I just want everyone to understand that this dialogue is not about can we vote our way out of a war. We have an enemy who has declared war on us. We are in a war. They want to stop us from living the way we want to live our lives," Pace said.
"We will prevail," he said. "There's no doubt about that. "
Pace recalled how the deaths of Marines he'd ordered into battle as a second lieutenant in Vietnam affected him emotionally. He kept a photo of the first Marine killed in that battle on his desk at the Pentagon.
He said he'd vowed then to serve the country in a way that honored their sacrifice.
"I am still in debt, but I leave today knowing that I have tried to fulfill that promise and in doing so have been led on an incredible journey," Pace said.
Incoming Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen wrote a letter to the U.S. military Monday. Read it: http://www.defenselink.mil/pdf/letter-to-troops.pdf
Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke at the change-of-command ceremony. Read his speech: http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid(equal sign)1180
The Defense Department's tribute page to outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace: http://www.defenselink.mil/home/features/2007/Pace(underscore)Farewell
McClatchy Newspapers 2007