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On the Scene: Last foot patrol of Pace's career

  • Story Highlights
  • Outgoing chairman of Joint Chiefs checks out war-torn Ramadi
  • Children play on quiet streets, vendors sell goods
  • Forty years after Vietnam stint, Pace's career coming to a close
  • Next Article in World »
By Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
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RAMADI, IRAQ (CNN) -- The walk in Ramadi was never supposed to happen. A sandstorm grounded Gen. Peter Pace and his entourage, who were planning on leaving the city after a quick visit during his final tour of Iraq.

With nothing to do, Pace suggested the group go for a walk.

Now the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not just "go for a walk" in the middle of a war zone. Ramadi had been devastated by months of intense fighting, with hundreds of U.S. troops giving their lives trying to rid the city of insurgents. But the last time an improvised explosive device detonated in the center of the city was in February.

Troops I talked to in the city believe they are making a difference.

Before the storm, the city's mayor said he is trying to rebuild the city. He told Pace that even though many say they do not want the Americans occupying the city, he is concerned that insurgents will return if the security umbrella of the American troops were ever to leave.

For now, Ramadi was moderately safe -- and Pace wanted to go for a walk, then a walk would be happening.

After a sharp intake of breath from his security patrol, the team got working on a security plan. Within the hour everyone was out the door, strolling through the streets. Video Watch Pace interact with Ramadi residents »

When Sen. John McCain visited Baghdad, he came under heavy criticism for saying he strolled through the market just like one would in the United States. He never mentioned the security team surrounding him or the helicopters overhead.

Pace had security, too -- heavily armed U.S. troops and Iraqi soldiers, though not as heavy as what McCain had in the capital city.

With the sandstorm blowing, the streets were quiet. People were polite. Little kids were waving. Pace shook hands and posed for pictures with some children, and talked to a few of the vendors on the streets.

The general stopped to ask a watch seller how business was and how security was going. Not too bad, the vendor said.

But when CNN photojournalist Khalil Abdallah, who speaks Arabic, asked another man how things were going, the answer was not as friendly. He said he wanted the "occupiers" gone.

Walking with the general, I noticed the devastation from the intense fighting. Every building was bombed, shelled or destroyed.

But the experience was incredible.

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Over the years, hundreds of U.S. troops have fought and died on these streets. To now be walking and talking to kids and buying fruit was an extraordinary experience.

For Pace, who is stepping down, the patrol through the streets could very well be his last. Four decades ago he went on patrol in Vietnam. Today, as his entourage walked through the city center in Ramadi, they came across some Marines who happened to be from the very same unit as the one Pace was part of some 40 years earlier. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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