WASHINGTON (AP) -- In his first public comments on the Bush administration's surprise decision to replace him as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace disclosed that he had turned down an offer to voluntarily retire rather than be forced out.
To quit in wartime, he said, would be letting down the troops.
Pace, responding to a question from the audience after he spoke at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va., on Thursday evening, said he first heard that his expected nomination for a second two-year term was in jeopardy in mid-May. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on June 8 announced Pace was being replaced.
"One thing that was discussed was whether or not I should just voluntarily retire and take the issue off the table," Pace said, according to a transcript released Friday by his office at the Pentagon. "I said I could not do that for one very fundamental reason," which is that no soldier or Marine in Iraq should "think -- ever -- that his chairman, whoever that person is, could have stayed in the battle and voluntarily walked off the battlefield.
"That is unacceptable as a leadership thing, in my mind," he added.
Pace, whose current term ends Oct. 1, said he intended to remain on the job until then. Navy Adm. Michael Mullen has been announced as Bush's choice to succeed Pace, who is the first Marine ever to hold the military's top post.