West Point honors women’s history, ‘trailblazer’ Pace speaks about her Army experience
US Army | Mar. 22, 2023
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeanne Pace spoke graciously of women who influenced her, women who served during World War I and World War II, and paved the way for her to receive the opportunities she would obtain as she herself became a “trailblazer” for women in the U.S. Army.
“Within the history of our Army, women have volunteered their services to our country, not for glory but out of dedication to country, their fellow Americans and the cause of freedom,” Pace said. “Their struggle was not unlike what you see around the world, but it allowed them the freedom and opportunity to serve to their fullest potential. Each generation of women contributed to the enhancement of women’s rights and the increased opportunities for women, especially in the military.”
Pace addressed her trailblazing history during the Women’s History Month Observance, hosted by the U.S. Military Academy’s Equal Opportunity Office and included a performance by the West Point Band’s Woodwind Quintet, March 16 at the West Point Club.
Each March, the Department of Defense pays tribute to the women who, through their determination and contributions, have shaped America’s history and whose efforts continue to pave the way forward. This year’s theme was “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” During the event, Pace was honored to tell her story to the next generation of women, among others, who will serve the military.
“It is especially nice to be here at this historic place with you who represent the future leadership of the Army and in celebration of Women’s History Month,” Pace said. “Each of you women and men will help write the next chapter of women’s contributions to our Army and setting standards of success for generations to follow. It takes a focused and determined team who, regardless of gender, can achieve success for our Army.”
Pace talked eloquently to the mostly young audience about her successes and the trials and tribulations that she faced throughout her career as a woman in the military.
She entered her military service in the Women’s Army Corps in 1972. Upon completion of WAC Basic Training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, she was assigned to the 14th Army “WAC” Band, which was the only Army band open to female Soldiers at the time. Outside of becoming proficient with her instrument, the clarinet, by the time she retired in October 2015, she was the last of the former Women’s Army Corps Band members, the longest serving warrant officer and the longest serving female of any military branch at the time having completed 43 years of continuous active-duty service to the U.S. Army.
While appreciative and thankful to all the women who preceded her in the military, it was never her plan to make the Army a career.
“My full intention was to serve for three years, get my benefits, gain my independence and figure out what I really wanted to do with my life,” Pace explained. “I now refer to my time in the service as my three-year enlistment with a 40-year bonus.”
Beginning of the 43-year odyssey
Pace’s journey began as an Air Force brat, the daughter of Air Force veterans, retired Maj. Edward L. Pace and Faye J. Pace. Her mother was also a trailblazer, having served with the Women’s Air Force from 1949-51 during its infancy.
“My parents met at their first assignment, which they were both in the Air Weather Service – they were weather forecasters,” Pace said.
Her father would eventually be offered the opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School and would go onto to serve 22 years. Her mom would get pregnant with Pace’s older sister and had to leave the service due to the pregnancy, which were the rules of the time.
As her dad served through the Korean War to the Vietnam War era, Pace, who was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and spent time growing up in the Philippines, was ready to forge her own path in the military while living in Tacoma, Washington, in 1972 as the war in Vietnam was nearing its conclusion.
“Military leaders were strategizing because they knew that the post-war Army had to be an all-volunteer force, and they recognized that the success of it would depend on the expansion of roles of women to fill the ranks,” Pace said.
Following high school graduation, Pace had been accepted to college, but didn’t have the funding to attend. She was trying to get a college loan but the program at the time was suspended due to budgetary issues in Congress. So, Pace then started visiting recruiting offices, asking about ROTC scholarships only to discover that scholarships were not available for women until after their freshman year of college.
“In fact, there were very few colleges in the United States at the time that even had women in ROTC programs,” Pace said.
While at home waiting on a college loan approval, she received a call back from one of the Army recruiters. The recruiter did his homework, Pace stated, as he found out she was in the high school band program and said that she could possibly qualify to be in an Army band.
She said that she was told Army musicians at the time attended six months of musical training at the Army School of Music, so with that and college GI benefits, Pace figured that, “I would get further education if I enlisted.”
She then prepared by taking and qualifying with a good GT score and did an audition to show her proficiency on her instrument in order to be a member of the military band program, which is still true today.
However, the beginning of her Army journey did come with an initial snag to it as the contract she signed was declared fraudulent due to a mistake by the Army.
“My contract read that upon completion of basic training, I would go to the Army School of Music for advanced individual training. So, what was the problem?” Pace said. “(The recruiters) were not aware that when they drew up the contract that it didn’t apply to women. At the time, women musicians were not allowed to attend AIT, so after basic training I would report directly to the 14th Army WAC Band, the all-female unit, where I would do on the job training.”
She was offered the opportunity to walk away from the contract, but she was credited for her delayed entry time and drove forward and swore into active duty by late summer in 1972. She was the only woman at the recruiting processing station among dozens of new recruits and a handful of draftees.
“The recruiters were told for every woman they could enlist, one less draft number was being pulled,” Pace said. “So, I was part of that transition to the Army’s all-volunteer corps.”
The next step: From WAC to integration to warrant officer and commander
The first few months in the Army were stressful for the young 18-year-old, but it was an odd time for female Soldiers who were supposed to play the part of being feminine in an obvious field training environment.
“It was absolutely not considered appropriate or proper for young ladies to sweat,” Pace said. “Women were expected to present a professional and feminine appearance as stated in Army regulations. Women were issued items to wear like a summer dress uniform and a purse. Uniforms also did not include slacks; it was just skirts.”
While women did receive training on map reading, reacting to a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical attack and field first aid, they were not allowed to go to the firing range.
“While men were training for potential combat in Vietnam, by law, we were not permitted to handle weapons of any kind,” Pace said. “When thinking back on that, I tend to joke now by saying often my most dangerous weapons in basic training were a hot iron and a floor buffer.”
But as the military withdrew from Vietnam and the all-volunteer corps was taking prevalence, Pace served her first four years with the 14th WAC Band as she went from private to staff sergeant during that time with the all-female unit.
However, times were changing, as the Women’s Army Corps would soon be disestablished in 1978, and before that, in 1976, men would begin reporting to their unit. But the positive part for women was they were finally allowed to attend the Army School for Music for AIT and were allowed to report to bands worldwide as part of the Army’s integration of women throughout the force, minus combat units until about 40 years later.
The negative, however, with the 14th WAC Band was all the senior women leadership who were at station for too long were put on orders to move out – so they stripped all the noncommissioned officer leadership out of the unit and a senior male warrant officer was also assigned.
“I was a newly promoted E-6 at the time, and there was only one other female E-6 who remained with the band,” Pace said. “We received male NCOs from various other bands to fill the NCO ranks. There was very little cohesion for quite some time, and there was also friction and issues.
“Some men were very quick to inform us they were there to help ‘fix’ things and make sure we did things the real Army way,” she added. “They never seemed to be aware of the excellent reputation our previously all-female band had established.”
Essentially, during her last year with the 14th Army Band, she experienced the unique perspective of gender integration in the Army.
“When you hear the term ‘gender integration,’ most picture women joining the ranks of men as they integrate into the Army,” Pace said. “For us, it was exactly the opposite, I knew of no other all-female unit in the Army that experienced the gender integration by receiving males into their ranks.”
Pace said the challenges she experienced as a young NCO provided her with much perspective that served her well for the remainder of her enlisted days as she achieved sergeant first class prior to making the transition to warrant officer in 1985, which then she faced new challenges in the officer, command leader role.
After graduating as the distinguished graduate of the Warrant Officer Entry Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama, she was appointed as a Chief Warrant Officer 2 and reported to Fort Hood, Texas, as the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division Band, a post she held from 1985-90.
“When the division learned it was receiving not only a green warrant officer, but also a woman would be sent to run their band – they were not happy,” Pace said. “They asked the band program to send them the most seasoned warrant officer knowing that it would be a man. But the band program refused.”
In becoming the commander of the 1st Cavalry Division Band, she would become the first female warrant officer bandmaster on active duty in the Army.
What she appreciated most about the situation was the chief of U.S. Army Bands made her aware of a conversation he had with the division about her being the commander.
“He told me to be prepared that he was having to send me into the division with a campaign slogan, and he told the division to think of it as just another first for the first team,” Pace said. “When I reported to the division, I was one of only a handful of female officers and the only female warrant officer. It was obvious that many men had not worked closely with women, and some were not aware of the changes that had taken place with the status of women in the Army overall.”
Pace remembers, at times, she was told unequivocally that she could not sign paperwork because women could not command men, so there was no way she could be the company commander signing paperwork.
“Instead of taking offense to all of this, I accepted the opportunity and the challenge to try to explain the changes that had taken place in our Army,” Pace said. “Basically, I tried to educate people along the way.”
As assignments came one-by-one, she would become the first woman commander of The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps in Fort Myer, Virginia, from 1996 to 2004.
A moment she reflects on often in terms of the dynamic between men and women is when she was in the Military District of Washington with her boss, a colonel, to be a subject matter expert to a general about an issue with The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.
As she explains, they were walking down the sidewalk and approached the door of the building they were supposed to enter. She was walking to the left of the senior officer as officers are trained to do with customs and courtesies. She didn’t want to cross him to open the door, which would seem disrespectful, so she slowed down to go behind him but so did he, so she sped up again and so did he – so now the dilemma.
They were a step from the door, and she felt she was failing at her task and stopped in her tracks and the colonel stopped as well.
He said to her, “Chief, what’s the matter?” Pace said, “Sir, you’re just making this very difficult for me.” He then said, “What?” Pace remarked, “I know I’m the junior officer and I’m supposed to open the door for you and I’ve made every attempt I know how other than tackling you, and so I want you to know I know about what the rules of customs and courtesies say and I’m supposed to open that door.”
He rolled his eyes at her, reached for the door, opened it and said, “Chief, just go in there.”
Pace said she does have a sarcastic nature about her, so the moment probably seemed like a comedy skit. However, within her career timeframe, women weren’t always openly welcomed into units, so for her, it was an example she uses to show the difference between chauvinism and chivalry.
“This generation was raised to be chivalrous, and I hadn’t been given the opportunity to understand that the adjustment may be offensive and I knew a woman who would have taken offense to that and complained profusely about how awful it was that he opened the door for her,” Pace said. “I chose to think even though much time had passed since women had joined the different units, there was more time needed for certain things to change.”
Pace said her boss helped her acknowledge the difference between chauvinism and chivalry, and that a misunderstanding of an attempt of an action can create issues but the direct communication versus confrontation can absolutely diffuse or resolve issues.
“As changes in the Army continued, gender differences became less and less of an issue,” Pace said. “With each new assignment, there is a settling in and validation process that everyone goes through. It is about getting there, settling and then proving that you absolutely know your job and you will do it professionally, no matter your gender.”
The final chapter: The Old Guard, 9/11, deployment to Iraq, ramping up her career, lasting advice to cadets
For those stationed at Fort Myer, home of the The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, there is a unique birds eye view of the Pentagon. As Pace explained, Fort Myer, in conjunction with the Pentagon parking lot and the next exit on the Interstate, is neighbors to the Pentagon where, “In a pinch, you could walk to the Pentagon.”
However, Pace gets emotional talking about 9/11 and as events unfolded on that clear-skied Tuesday morning more than 21 years ago as a low-flying aircraft plunged into the Pentagon fortress in an area she called, “Ground Zero.”
“You could not be any more forward in a battle zone than we were then,” Pace said, which was a direct quote from a colonel she knew. “At the time, there was so much unknown and I really felt the best thing I could do is try to reassure my Soldiers.”
While the Old Guard is a ceremonial unit, there are also infantry Soldiers assigned as part of the unit, the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard), since the area includes Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with all burial ceremonies and pageantry that are involved. But, in a pinch and if needed, they had the ability to engage if invited by local authorities to be involved in any major incident in the Capital Region.
“They’re infantry Soldiers and they have those infantry capabilities, not just the ceremonial ones,” Pace said. “There are certain things that they could put into action right away.”
At the same time, her band members “felt worthless” during the first few hours post plane crash into the Pentagon. While they were all stunned, she had conversations with all of them and told them to understand that they were “70 Strong” members and ready to support where needed.
“I took forward to the command and said there were extremely limited number of cooks (there). They only had one small dining facility in that area,” Pace said. “I said, ‘If you’re setting up field kitchens, let your cooks do the technical things, but my people could certainly go in and do things like KP (kitchen prep) duties or serve the food or help clean up afterward.’”
She reminded the command about utilizing her manpower and that they had many capabilities at their disposal, especially after such a horrific event and they were not sure yet if anything else could happen in those initial moments and days.
“We were right there, doing what we could and went on to do credentialing-type things,” Pace said. “My guys were asked to run the badging operations and then later that turned over to the U.S. Army Band at Fort Myer as well because they had more people to support it better. We ended up doing a security mission at the gates at Fort Myer to help assist and augment the Military Police – it was just incredible to see.
“The youngest Soldiers never believed they would be called to do that … so they all stepped up and we all hung in there together,” Pace added. “To this day, I have a couple of Soldiers who recall those activities and say, ‘We wouldn’t want to be there with any other commander. We appreciate what you did for us’ – and that means a lot to me.”
Sept. 11, 2001, was just the beginning of the years ahead, and Pace would expand her abilities in the Adjutant General branch when she was already a Chief Warrant Officer 5. As part of G-1 Personnel Readiness with III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, she deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn in 2010-11, serving as the USF-I, J-1 executive officer.
Pace had been managing bandmaster and warrant officer assignments at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and saw how many were being deployed and she wanted to do her part in a rotation and got back to Fort Hood.
She worked at G-1 and then J-1 once deployed as the staff expands. Pace’s duties were working for a colonel and making sure his driver was set and helped his deputy with his schedule and do whatever she could to support the J-1 staff.
“I helped coordinate travel … I was the one who would try to call around and cut deals or financial things to get him on an aircraft that might be going to where he wanted to go instead of traveling by ground, which he hated,” Pace said. “I was basically an admin assistant on steroids, which is the best way to describe it. Toward the end of the deployment, we helped orchestrate and organize the personnel drawdown. We had to reach the presidential mandate of less than 80,000 boots on the ground and we were the staff that started all of that in motion.”
After the deployment, she would serve another five years before her retirement. Along the way she has been honored with many awards to include a distinguished member of the Third U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard), and recipient of the Infantry Order of Saint Maurice with rank of legionnaire. She is a distinguished member of the Adjutant Regimental Corps and was also named the National Daughters’ of the American Revolution Margaret Corbin annual service award recipient for 2011, which is awarded to one service woman annually. In 2014, she was recognized by the International Women’s Brass Conference for her service as a pioneer for women in music. In 2015, she was commissioned as an honorary Texan and a Yellow of Rose of Texas by the governor of Texas. In 2019, after her retirement, she was inducted into the Adjutant’s Corps Hall of Fame.
Over 43 years, Pace touched many peoples’ lives, including Lt. Col. Tod Addison, the current West Point Equal Opportunity Program Manager and former commander of the West Point Band, who once was a Soldier of hers in the band many years ago and Addison invited her to speak at the Women’s History Month Observance.
As she ramped up her speech and during the question-and-answer session with cadets, she was asked a couple of questions and for any words of advice she could give to the group in attendance.
She talked about her great fortune to have served as the commander of The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted that they kept me around there for about eight years,” Pace joked. “I was fortunate to reach CW4 and CW5 while in that unit.”
She also added how much of a growing experience her time at Fort Hood was both times she served there and what it meant to her.
“With the 1st Cav Division, that Stetson does mean a lot to me,” Pace said. “The Old Guard and the 1st Cav Division were pretty good experiences for me.”
Then a cadet asked her about her experience being with the 14th Army Band as it became integrated with men because the cadet talked about her experience of going abroad and how women were treated compared to men in service in other countries.
Pace offered sage advice to the cadet while she continues her path toward a career as an officer in the U.S. Army.
“The biggest thing was proving I could do whatever the task was and that helped blur the lines, so professionalism in that respect and not letting folks get under your skin,” Pace said. “Honestly, I lived in a slightly protected environment being in a band because musicians tend to truly focus on the performance aspect of it.
“However, make sure that you go into any commitment with your eyes wide open,” Pace added. “I didn’t have some of the same trials and tribulations that you will encounter going into certain career fields. However, I go back to being careful with your own reactions to things, you can’t control want other people do, but you can control how you react to that.
“Take a deep breath, try to get rid of the frustration and try to think what are the important things you can pull from what you experienced and then try to educate those around you – but focusing on, I’m here, I can do the task.”
Pace said her own professionalism helped her, but explained that, “I wasn’t any better than anyone else, but I certainly wasn’t any worse than anyone else from the fact that if you’re not going to be accepting or you’re going to act like that, you’re the one who has got the problem, not me. Then how to go about improving the situation as opposed to just ignoring it and letting it fester.”
Pace felt sorry for what happened to the cadet and hopes that her experiences going forward, especially abroad, will be much better.
“I hope there is still an evolution happening and I know there is a long way to go because I’m not saying it is perfect,” Pace said. “But you can see the same thing in corporate America or anywhere else you want a job, but we all just have to keep working hard at it and I will say men supporting women doing the jobs can make a huge difference in that as well.”
Pace concluded her speech to the audience by giving advice from someone she once knew to the women in attendance by simply saying reach for the stars in the careers and, “Go For It. Be a Soldier for Life. Be All You Can Be.”