Lawmaker's Talk About Military Irks Joint Chiefs Chair

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized Rep. John P. Murtha yesterday for sending "the wrong message" to American youth when the congressman indicated in an interview this week that he would not join today's military.

Pace, the top military adviser to President Bush, reacted to an appearance Monday by Murtha (D-Pa.) on ABC's "Nightline," which included a discussion of the strain on the military. Murtha, a Marine veteran, was asked whether he would join the military today, and responded, "No."

The ABC interviewer, John Donvan, asked whether Murtha meant that "the average guy out there who's considering recruitment is justified in saying, 'I don't want to serve.' " Murtha replied, "Well, exactly right."

Murtha has publicly called for President Bush to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, arguing that the war cannot be won militarily and that U.S. forces should be brought home to safety. His view has drawn considerable criticism and rebuttal from the White House and Republicans in Congress.

Pace, who just returned from Iraq, sternly told reporters at the Pentagon yesterday that the U.S. Army is the best-trained army in the world, and he expressed disappointment in Murtha's comments.

"That's damaging to recruiting, it's damaging to the morale of the troops who are deployed, and it's damaging to the morale of their families who believe in what they're doing to serve this country," Pace said, adding that 2.4 million volunteers protect the nearly 300 million U.S. residents.

"When a respected leader like Mr. Murtha, who has spent 37 extremely honorable years as a Marine, fought in two wars, has served the country extremely well in the Congress of the United States, when a respected individual like that says what he said, and 18- and 19-year-olds look to their leadership to determine how they are expected to act, they can get the wrong message."

Murtha responded with a statement yesterday, saying he believes there is no greater honor than to serve and defend the nation. He pointed out, however, that recruiting has waned significantly since the days immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Now the military's ability to attract recruits is being hampered by the prospect of prolonged, extended and repeated deployments; inadequate equipment; shortened home stays; the lack of any connection between Iraq and the brutal attacks of 9/11; and, most importantly, the administration's constantly changing, undefined, open-ended military mission in Iraq. I didn't have concerns like these when I enlisted in the Marines during the Korean War or volunteered to go to Vietnam."

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