Gen. Edward Rice is retiring after more than 30 years of service, according to the San Antonio Express-News. (Air Force)
Even in the beginning, Gen. Edward Rice seemed to have what it took to lead. He was a 1978 distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy, where he majored in engineering science and served as cadet wing commander. He became a bomber pilot, served inside the White House, led at almost every level and commanded bomber operations in the first months of the Afghanistan war.
In November 2010, he pinned on his fourth star and took on what would be his last assignment — arguably the most challenging in a career spanning 35 years of war and peace.
Rice, who this month announced his retirement, has led Air Education and Training Command through a basic training scandal in which dozens of instructors have been accused of sexual misconduct ranging from rape to off-limit relationships with recruits. The cases led to investigations, hearings on Capitol Hill and sweeping changes to basic training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
“I see this not as a negative but as a positive, of the right leader at the right time. I believe he has set the table for the U.S. Air Force to solve this problem,” said retired Lt. Gen. Dick Newton, who met Rice when they entered the academy together in 1974. “He has effectively communicated to the American people how he has taken responsibility and accountability to eradicate sexual assault in his command and throughout the Air Force.”
But his work within AETC should not define his career, Newton said. “To me, Ed Rice is one of the most capable leaders the Air Force has ever produced. He’s someone who is selfless, who leads from the front. He’s someone who has a great mind and a great compassion for people.”
Rice said in a statement his retirement is still several months off. “I look forward to continuing to serve the airmen of AETC and the American people during this period of challenge and opportunity.”
Lt. Gen. Robin Rand, who currently commands the 12th Air Force at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Base, Ariz., has been selected to replace Rice.
A varied career
Rice, who has more than 3,900 flying hours, commanded a squadron, a group, a wing, the Air Force Recruiting Service, two numbered air forces and a joint command. He led the 5th Air Force at Yokota Air Base, Japan, before taking over at AETC. He helped provide disaster relief to the 2004 tsunami victims in Southeast Asia.
As he rose through the ranks, his wife, Teresa, stood by his side, a gregarious partner to the stoic Air Force officer, Newton said. “His effectiveness as a senior leader has been greatly enhanced by Teresa. When you talk about Ed Rice, you also need to talk about Teresa.”
Newton described them as a formidable couple who, despite the differences in their personalities, come from the same mold. “She has a great compassion for people. She served in many magnificent ways. She’s put forth ideas on how we can be more effective in taking care of spouses and families. She’s certainly led the effort in AETC.”
Newton said Rice’s roles commanding wings and the recruiting service are among those of which the four-star is most proud. The latter “is where you are truly able to put your fingerprints on the future of the U.S. Air Force,” the retired lieutenant general said.
In Afghanistan, “he was out in front as a combat air leader, someone who would take challenges head-on,” Newton said.
Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning said in a statement July 5 that Rice’s legacy will be his “dedication to the well-being of airman and the tens of thousands trained under his watch” who make up the Air Force today.
“Ed and Teresa Rice will leave the Air Force a much stronger institution due to their 35 years of service,” Fanning said. “Gen. Rice was given many tough assignments during his career, not the least of which was commanding AETC during a challenging time. His steady and focused leadership have resulted in a training environment that is producing the finest, most professional airmen the service has ever seen.”
Rice was seven months into his job as commander of AETC when a recruit reported a fellow trainee had been sexually assaulted by a basic training instructor. The trainer was ultimately convicted of raping, sexually assaulting or having inappropriate relationships with 10 recruits, many of whom had been under his direct charge. He is serving a 20-year prison sentence. After the allegation surfaced, other instructors came forward to report misconduct of fellow MTIs.
AETC became front and center in what lawmakers and victims advocates described as an epidemic of sexual assault in the military. Rice took many steps, some of them unprecedented, such as emailing 300,000 former basic trainees urging them to call a hotline if they had been a victim of or witnessed sexual misconduct by an MTI.
This month, he approved a three-day campaign in which a message appeared on all AETC computer screens every 155 minutes throughout the day — the average frequency of sexual assault reports within the Department of Defense.
Rice, in emailed responses to questions, said he wanted to keep the topic a priority. “As AETC commander, I am focused on holding every airman responsible for correcting misconduct on sight. Collectively, we are working hard at ensuring an environment of basic respect among all airmen.”
The messages went out over the Ad Hoc system, which provides information during emergencies.
“Keep in mind that sexual assault is a real emergency. The ad hoc messages highlight the impact of this serious crime and garner the attention this subject deserves,” Rice wrote. “Airmen at all levels need to be discussing this issue and developing awareness to stop sexual misconduct before it happens.
“It’s our hope they continue to build awareness and to own responsibility of recognizing the signs of sexual assault and to deter, correct, report and eliminate this misconduct from the Air Force.”
The commander established and oversaw an oversight council to review and advise any actions undertaken to eliminate sexual assault. “I have to ensure that I’m satisfied that we’ve got this on the right track before I take my very firm hand off the stick here,” Rice said in a November interview with Air Force Times.
He ordered an investigation of basic training and all AETC initial and technical training units led by Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward. Woodward, who was outside the command, recommended dozens of changes to basic, including tougher MTI requirements, mandatory duty, greater oversight, increased staffing and shorter hours.
Still, he said in the November interview, “I have zero percent confidence we have this 100 percent right today. I’m absolutely confident we can make a difference.”
Rice offered a glimpse into the challenges of his own rise to the top.
“The corruptive elements of power tend to increase over time. The longer you’ve had it, the more you’re susceptible to it, the more you start to believe the rules don’t apply to you,” he said. “I have lots of times every day where I have to make sure I’m doing the right thing, that this isn’t about me and what’s good for me, it’s about what’s good for the Air Force.”■
Jeff Schogol contributed to this story.