My Closing Argument
“Counsel will now make argument.
Captain Pede, are you ready to proceed?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
And so it would begin. It may be true that some trial attorneys can remember every closing argument. I cannot. But I do remember many—and I remember my hours of preparation, the tortured phrasings, and the rehearsals. I remember the recognition that I had little time to adjust my planned argument after the facts that actually came out at trial didn’t quite match the eloquent argument I had prepared.
And so life goes, no?
Your plans never quite match reality. Life happens.
And what a blessing that is—that your personal script is barely an outline of what will happen.
If someone, anyone, had said in 1984 when my father, Brigadier General Gus Pede, administered my first oath of office that I would one day serve as the Army’s Judge Advocate General (TJAG), I’m sure I would have said, “What is a TJAG?”
When Anne and I started this journey, it was an adventure mainly—albeit one of service: Anne the teacher, Chuck the Soldier. We were committed to doing something greater than both of us—for someone else—at least for a time. And we also did it because it seemed an adventure—something different and out of step with what all our friends were doing, and, as for so many of us, because our parents had served and we followed their worthy example. And while we only intended a short “adventure in green,” like so many, we stayed because of the people and the shared purpose.
As I step out of formation for the last time, I hope for each of you a spirit infused with service, fun, and purpose. Our nation’s days are too-filled with division and ad hominem attacks, narcissism, and a polarization in the body politic that, by my personal yardstick, I have never experienced.
In the midst of these dark currents, I am convinced that our, and I mean our—shared spirit of service is not only the better course—it is the premier overmatch for the weaknesses and foibles of the human condition.
We simply need to keep our focus and continue to set the example. And in that—our focus and example—our Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, is preeminent.
We are none of us perfect. None of us. We all have our weaknesses, our vices, and our faults. But with a focus on that which ennobles us—both collectively and individually—I am utterly convinced that we can maintain the high ground—even possessing such faults as we do. We are, as we are fond of saying, better together.
As the old adage goes, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”1
While your script will change by the minute, have your compass set to north. Our Corps’s Constants endure: Principled Counsel, Mastery of the Law, Stewardship of your Army and Corps, and Servant Leadership. Let them endure as your guideposts in times of good and bad.
Never negotiate your integrity—it is all you have in the end, and what allows for those around you to trust you.
Maintain your perspective on everything with a healthy sense of humor and an abiding devotion to history—not only because it is an interesting narrative of some life or event, but because it gives the present its priceless context and meaning.
Rudyard Kipling’s charge to “keep your head when all about you [a]re losing theirs and blaming it on you,”2 reminds us to keep calm amidst adversity so that your team and your family will look to you for answers and strength.
Kipling also reminds us to meet with triumph and disaster by treating these “impostors” as twins.3 What brilliance is such a life lesson. And then to the ethic of our profession—to “fill the unforgiving minute [w]ith sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”4 There is no better adage for a Soldier intent on doing what is right, and making the most of every minute of opportunity.
So much wisdom surrounds us if only we’ve opened our ears, our minds, and our hearts.
And so I close my time in formation with each of you—proud to have served with you. Thankful for the many opportunities to lead and follow. And ever grateful that our JAG Corps will remain, because of each of you, the best, most powerful, most consequential law firm in the world. Carry the torch proudly.
And in so doing, “dar[e] greatly, so that [you] shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”5 TAL
LTG Charles Pede
The 40th Judge Advocate General
Major Keith Hodges, Regional Defense Counsel, presides over First Lieutenant Pede’s promotion to captain with his wife, Anne, as Major Denise Vowell, Senior Defense Counsel, reads the orders (1988). (Photo courtesy of LTG Charles Pede)
1. See Elizabeth Huff, Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello.org (June 8, 2011), https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/matters-style-swim-currentspurious-quotation.
2. Rudyard Kipling, If, Poetry Found., https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46473/if--- (last visited June 1, 2021).
5. Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President, The Man in the Arena (Apr. 23, 1910), https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Learn-About-TR/TR-Encyclopedia/Culture-and-Society/Man-in-the-Arena.aspx.