JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – The commander of Air Education and Training Command retired Thursday, ending a 35-year career of service and commitment to the U.S. Air Force.
Gen. Edward Rice Jr., a command pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours, retired after handing AETC’s reins over to Gen. Robin Rand in a change-of-command ceremony here Oct. 10.
The son of an Airman, Rice grew up in Ohio near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where his father was stationed and worked in research and development. At the age of nine, Rice was first drawn to flying after seeing literature on the Air Force Academy.
“I was very much captured by the idea of the academy and what it stood for,” Rice said. “I saw the challenges involved and at a very early age, decided I wanted to fly.”
The general achieved his goal and then some, becoming the U.S. Air Force Academy’s cadet wing commander before earning recognition as a distinguished graduate as well as his officer’s commission in 1978. He continued on to undergraduate pilot training at Williams AFB where the future general was named distinguished graduate in 1980 before heading to his first flying assignment with the 69th Bombardment Squadron at Loring Air Force Base, Maine, as a B-52G copilot and, subsequently, aircraft commander.
Although the majority of flight duties throughout his career have been with bomber units, Rice has accumulated flying hours in eight different aircraft, to include the KC-135 Stratotanker, E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, and the C-130 Hercules.
When asked if he has a favorite airframe, Rice said it’s like trying to name a favorite child.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have flown a large number of aircraft for a long period of time,” he said. “All the aircraft are very different and there are things you like about each, but you can’t pick one over another.”
The general’s assignments have taken him all over the United States and the world, from Washington, D.C., to Guam and Japan. He feels blessed for the opportunities the Air Force has given him over the last four decades.
“One of the great aspects of the Air Force, and the military in general, is the ability to experience different places and, most importantly, meet different people,” Rice said.
The general said the people he’s served with throughout his career have been the best part of his job, despite having presented the most challenges.
“People are the most complex part of our business,” he said. “You may get frustrated with people when they don’t do what you would like them to do, but then you step back and realize you are dealing with human beings and that is what leadership is all about.”
The general said a key to his success has been focusing on the right people.
“You have to be careful not to focus on the people who are problematic, because it’s the people who are strong in an organization on which the success of an organization depends,” he said.
His advice to new Airmen joining an ever-changing Air Force is to always remember why they were motivated to join in the first place and keep working toward those goals.
“The Air Force might seem different to me now because I’ve been in it for a while, but it’s not to the new Airmen; it’s the only Air Force they know,” Rice said. “The same things that allowed you and me to be successful will allow them to be successful. How far and how fast individuals go in the Air Force is up to each individual more than anything going on around them.”
Rice said being a part of AETC and having a place in the initial contact and continuous improvement of all U.S. Airmen has been very rewarding.
“AETC really is the first command. When we come into the Air Force, we come through the Air Education and Training Command and then we all come back here many times throughout our careers,” Rice said. “I enjoy the continuity of trying to develop Airmen and make them bigger contributors to their units, our Air Force and our Nation.”
Rice said the hard work of everyone in the command will reap benefits.
“I’ve been very pleased with how the command has positioned itself to continue to accomplish the mission the Air Force has asked us to do,” he said. “We have difficulties just like everyone does and we are adapting to a world that is changing very quickly, but our Airmen have stepped up to that challenge and set the command up for success in the future.”
As for his future after the Air Force, Rice said he doesn’t have much planned just yet.
“We have a house here in San Antonio, so we are going to move in and get settled. My wife, Teresa, has plenty for me to do that will keep me busy not for days or weeks, but probably months,” he said with a smile.
The first order of business, Rice said, will be reflecting on 35 years of service to the nation and to our Air Force.