SAN ANTONIO — Gen. Edward Rice Jr., who led the Air Force's response to its worst-ever sexual misconduct scandal, will soon retire as head of the San Antonio-based Air Education and Training Command.
Rice, an Albuquerque, N.M., native who spent part of his childhood on the South Side, will close out a career that ran 35 years. He'll be replaced by Lt. Gen. Robin Rand, now commander of the 12th Air Force at Davis-Monthan AFB.
“It will be several months before I actually retire,” Rice, 57, said in a brief statement. “I look forward to continuing to serve the airmen of AETC and the American people during this period of challenge and opportunity.”
The scandal that so far has engulfed 33 basic training instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland for alleged misconduct with 67 recruits and technical school students fell on Rice's desk two years ago. Just last week, two instructors were sent to prison for having sex with trainees.
Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh III credited Rice with acting to uncover the depth of the scandal, while former Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters said Rice would have been replaced sooner if he had been blamed.
“He did what he could do, which is prosecute the people involved, replace the leadership, replace the (instructor) cadre that needed replacing,” said Peters, the Air Force's top civilian under President Bill Clinton.
Rice asked Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, to investigate basic and technical training. A report they released at the Pentagon last November called for sweeping changes in basic and technical school training.
So far, 34 of 45 recommendations have been completed, Lt. Col. Richard Johnson, an AETC spokesman, said Sunday. Instructor manpower is on the rise, and six officers will be added to every squadron by August.
“The reason we're finding all these cases is that when Gen. Ed Rice first learned about this thing, and I think in a very positive and aggressive way took charge of the investigation, he committed to looking long-term at every case that was unveiled in any way, shape or form going back at least 10 years,” Welsh said.
Lackland triggered widespread media coverage of sexual assaults in the services, a congressional investigation and calls for a makeover in the military justice system. Other incidents put a spotlight on the issue, including the arrest of a sexual assault prevention officer accused of groping a woman in Virginia.
A military brat, Rice lived on the now-defunct Brooks AFB from 1962-64 and led the Air Force Recruiting Service from 2002-04. He returned to head up AETC, which has 12 bases and trains 293,000 students a year. It is the largest Air Force command.
While many shied away from speaking about the scandal, he talked about it on several occasions. Asked about the impact of a series of highly publicized trials, Rice said he didn't fear that they would tarnish the Air Force's image.
“As far as I'm concerned, we will turn over every rock and are not afraid of what we might find because we believe it is absolutely important and critical for the integrity of the institution that we do the absolute best job we can of understanding the extent of what happened and ensuring that we protect any victims,” he said.