WASHINGTON -- President Bush's nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff laid out his priorities during confirmation hearings at the Senate Armed Services Committee here today.
"If confirmed, my priorities will be the war on terror, improving joint warfighting capacity, transforming our forces for the future and pursuing initiatives for quality of life for our families and our troops," said Marine Gen. Peter Pace.
Pace currently serves as vice chairman.
Pace appeared with vice chairman nominee Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr. and Air Force chief of staff nominee Gen. T. Michael Moseley. Giambastiani currently serves as head of U.S. Joint Forces Command, and Moseley is the Air Force vice chief of staff.
The senators quizzed the nominees on their opinions on the correct number of troops in Iraq, the way forward in the country, operations in Afghanistan, recruiting, how transformation can move forward, armored vehicles, tankers, acquisition reform and more.
Pace told the committee that he has struggled with the number of troops in Iraq. He said there has to be a balance between security needs in the country and having "too heavy a hand and you become an oppressor." The general said every single request for troops from the commanders in U.S. Central Command has been approved. He said he agrees with the numbers currently in Iraq - about 138,000 - and promised the committee that if theater commanders determine they need more troops, they will get them.
Pace said there is a challenge for recruiting for ground forces. He said that the problem the Army and Marines face is not money. "It's about message," he said. "It's about our young folks in this country understanding that we really are at war with an enemy that seeks to eliminate the way we live."
He said Americans need to encourage young people to come forward to defend the country from a very real threat. Pace also spoke about research findings that parents are discouraging young men and women against joining the military. He told the senators to encourage "the families of those young folks to let them follow their instincts to defend this constitution and this country."
He said there is sufficient desire to serve to continue to fill the ranks.
Pace agreed that the political process will be decisive in Iraq. He said coalition forces can provide a level of stability for the political process to move forward. But what will make the biggest change is writing the constitution, electing a new government and getting on with governance. "It is governance and economics that will be the future success in Iraq," he said.
Pace detailed the saga of armor for individuals and vehicles in Iraq. He said ultimately that bigger explosives will destroy any armor. Tanks - the most heavily armored vehicles in the inventory - have been destroyed by very large improvised explosive devices. He said it is impossible to put every soldier or Marine in a "cocoon," but emphasized the United States owes servicemembers the best possible equipment as they go into harm's way.
Pace spoke a bit about Afghanistan following the apparent shoot-down of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with 17 servicemembers aboard in the eastern part of the country.
The general said he is optimistic about the situation in Afghanistan. "When you go to Kabul, there are traffic jams, there's glass in the windows, cranes putting up new buildings, they are fixing the potholes in the roads, the kids are going to school, and the Afghans are proud of having voted," he said.
NATO has taken on the security mission in the eastern part of the country and has sponsored a number of provincial reconstruction teams. The alliance will continue to expand the security footprint in the country, he said.
But drugs and the Taliban remain stumbling blocks, he said. Poppy production and heroin manufacturing gives terrorists a ready-made source for funds. And as the Sept. 18 assembly elections approach, the Taliban will step up attacks.
Pace said he will work to reform the acquisition process - putting in place systems that give officials flexibility while keeping adequate oversight in place.
Armed Services Committee staffers said the committee probably will vote on the nominations today. If approved, the full Senate could vote on the nominations before adjourning for the Fourth of July holiday.