When Jeanne Pace graduated from Lakes High School in Tacoma, Wash., in 1972, a recruiter approached her, offering a quick option to enroll in college, honor a minimal commitment, and then exit the military within three years.
Little did they both know, while signing this initial enlistment contract, that Pace would go on to become the longest serving female warrant officer, last member serving of the 14th Women’s Army Corps Band, and be among the longest tenured female soldiers on active duty.
“At the time, there wasn’t much offered for a woman,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeanne Pace, former bandmaster with the 1st Cavalry Division Band. “But I was raised an Air Force brat, so that was something I kind of considered; and then I met an Army recruiter whose tag line was ‘Why don’t you join the Army and let Uncle Sam provide you with an education?’”
Pace considered the offer and brought her clarinet to an audition for the 14th Army Women’s Army Corps Band — the only band open to female soldiers at the time.
She was then faced with a dilemma: do I sign the dotted line, or consider my other options?
Pace said she chose to enlist as delayed entry and would go on to advance quickly in the ranks, up to a sergeant, before her initial contract was up.
“The first three years went by so quickly,” she said. “I was enjoying what I was doing, and was making rank pretty fast. When it came time to reenlist, I thought three had went by too fast, and seven seemed an eternity, so I ended up reenlisting for four years.”
About that time, the Women’s Army Corps started to undergo some rapid changes — changes that would transform the U.S. Army as a whole.
“When I enlisted, we were learning how to put on makeup in basic training, and were never allowed to handle weapons,” she said. “My most lethal weapon in basic was an iron. When I think about the past 43 years and see all of the changes, it’s pretty amazing. The Army’s leading the way, and now women have so many more opportunities.”
In October 1978, the women’s corps disestablished. Before this, Pace and her fellow WAC band mates were not permitted to attend advanced individual training, instead going straight to their first unit for assignment after basic training.
Now, all of a sudden, women were integrated with the rest of the Army, and had to compete for advancement and promotions, despite having disadvantages like not previously getting to attend AIT.
“Affirmative action was applied so promotions were opened up to women,” she said. “There was a huge glass ceiling, and it took years to balance it out. That was the first, huge step forward the Army took for women that I can remember.”
After leaving the band in the late 1970s, she would play in the 79th Army Band at Fort Amador, Panama Canal Zone, and the 9th Infantry Division Band at Fort Lewis, Wash. Among other assignments, she helped develop the Army Band Advanced Noncommissioned Officer course and became its first manager.
At the 10-year mark, Pace once again contemplated getting out of the military, but found her eyes heavily set on the retirement offered by making it to 20 years of active service.
Pace had advanced to the rank of sergeant first class within her first decade in the Army, and decided she wanted to further pursue her musical talents in the military.
She then went to the Warrant Officer Entry Course at Fort Rucker, Ala., where she graduated with distinguished honors and was appointed a chief warrant officer 2, which brought her to the First Team, reporting as the first female commander of the 1st Cavalry Division Band from 1985 to 1990.
“I owe so much to the women of the WAC band, and all of those who helped pave the way to get here,” she said. “They were the ones who taught me everything.”
Twenty years in the Army came and went, with Pace continuing to serve, even though she had met her goal of reaching retirement. Fast-forward another 10 years, and Pace at last began transitioning out of the military after 30 years of service.
But the Army had a trick up its sleeve for Pace.
“The Army offered me CW5 (chief warrant officer 5), even though I was already in ACAP (Army Career and Alumni Program),” she said. “I decided once again to not drop my retirement packet.”
In the years since that, Pace has served at numerous levels, including performing recovery and cleanup operations at Ground Zero after 9/11, and deploying with III Corps.
Soon, Pace will be officially putting down her conductor baton for good, as she has served the law’s maximum time as a warrant officer (30 years), and is planning to have her retirement ceremony at Cooper Field on Friday — after 43 years of service.
“I used to joke that they would have to hog-tie me up and throw me out the front gate to get rid of me,” she said. “I’ve done this my entire adult life, since I was 18, and now sitting on the sidelines, I get to watch the soldiers of our band do great things.”
‘Power to heal’
And as for the music; that will never stop, she said.
“Music is intangible,” she said. “The Army still identifies the importance of Army bands. ‘Why do we need bands?’ Because when soldiers are deployed, we can send other soldiers to go where the USO can’t. Music has the power to heal — even PTSD and TBIs. It’s a science, not just an art.”
Even for the naysayers, music has a way to touch the heart, she said.
“I once knew a soldier who couldn’t understand the importance of the Army having bands,” Pace said. “But it was that moment when he stepped off of the plane from his deployment and the band was there playing; he not only got why we are important … he felt it.”