FORT HOOD, Texas - What makes a good military career? Many career soldiers might tell you they would be satisfied just doing 20 years and then retiring. Less than one percent of Americans serve in the military. Only a small percentage of those serve 20 years.
When a soldier comes along and serves for over 40 years and is still going strong, it’s really something unique.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeanne Y. Pace, commander and band leader for the 1st Cavalry Division Band joined the Army in 1972, although back then it was called the Women’s Army Corps.
Little did she know then that 41 years later, she would still be wearing Army green.
Pace is the longest serving female in the Army and the last active duty soldier who was a part of the WAC. After all those years it might be difficult for some to imagine what keeps her going.
“I believe I still have something to offer and I still enjoy my job,” said Pace.
Like many serving today, Pace said she joined the Army to establish her independence as an adult with the guarantee of clothing, food, shelter, and medical benefits while earning her education benefits and trying to figure out what she really wanted to do with her life.
“I had no idea that that three-year year enlistment would turn into more than 40 years. There is just no way I could have imagined it,” continued Pace.
Pace began her career as a private with the 14th Army (WAC) Band at Fort McClellan, Ga., and after 13 years decided to apply to be a warrant officer. It was during this time she was dealt what she perceives was her only real setback during her distinguished career.
“I failed the first time I tried to become a warrant officer,” said Pace.
Not one to let failure keep her down, Pace acknowledged the challenge, re-assessed her goals, and re-applied. Resilience paid off and she pinned on the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 2 in 1985.
Thirteen years has quickly turned into 41 years and Pace acknowledged she has seen a lot of changes. Women in the Army have had their roles increased dramatically over that time period and things such as women’s increasing role in combat arms have given the Army the opportunity to lead the way in adapting to those changes.
“I feel the Army is ahead of society on a lot of things,” said Pace. “But society has to be willing to accept some of the things that the Army trying to do. The whole thing with women in combat, all of that is something society collectively is going to have to realize and address and already has started recognizing and addressing as the Army moves forward.”
Sgt. Maj. Robert Stagg, 1st Cav. Div. Band, works with Pace on a daily basis as the senior enlisted leader for the band. He said Paces long career is unique and has its benefits.
“Because she has been in the Army so long, she has all of this experience that we can draw upon,” said Stagg. “Most commanders haven’t been in the Army for 40 years.”
While being in the Army that long has made her a historical figure, Stagg said she remains humble and well grounded.
“She really genuinely cares about her soldiers. She’s willing to go out of her way to care for their families and take care of any problems that they might have,” continued Stagg. “She is still a musician, she still has passion, and she’s here because she loves working with the band.”