African American History Month

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo
  • Air Force Print News
For Maj. Gen. Edward Rice, vice commander of Pacific Air Forces, being asked to serve as keynote speaker at this year's Black History Month Luncheon was both an uplifting experience and an opportunity to reflect on the progress of the nation's African-American community. 

"We had a great crowd and they were enthusiastic about the presentation, so it was a great honor for me and I enjoyed it very much," said the general, who has flown every bomber in the inventory -- including wartime flying combat missions during Operation Enduring Freedom -- and served in a series of high-level staff positions. 

In commenting on this year's theme, 'From Slavery to Freedom,' Gen. Rice noted that despite all the opportunities this country has to offer, statistics show that the nation's African Americans population still faces hurdles. In his speech, he remarked that the vestiges of institutional slavery, segregation and discrimination still impact our African-American population. 

"As I look around this country today, even with all the we have done and all that we have accomplished, I think that we can and should and need to do more as we look into the future," he said. "(This year's) theme is a good one -- so that we don't forget what has happened and how we might deal with it today." 

Integrated in 1949, the Air Force has come a long way since the days of segregated units. Gen. Rice said he has seen changes both in society and the Air Force over the years. 

"I think the Air Force has changed a lot since I came in," he said. "I think we are much more aware of and interested in making sure we take advantage of the talents of every single person in the Air Force. To do that we have to be aware of and sensitive to our differences, as well as what we need to do to make sure we understand how we can best work together." 

He also said he recognizes the opportunity for all Airmen to succeed continues to grow and will continue on into the future. 

"In my experience, there is no secret formula -- certainly no secret formula for African Americans, women or any specific group," Gen. Rice said. "I believe that our standards to get into the Air Force are so high that if you come in either as an enlisted person or an officer, you have everything it takes to be successful." 

According to Gen. Rice, how high and how fast an Airman goes has far more to do with attitude, desire and work ethic than any other quality. 

He advised Airmen to work hard, pay attention to what is important, become part of their unit and contribute to it. Do that, he said, and there are no limits to what they can achieve in the Air Force. 

"I think there is a tremendous opportunity in our Air Force for people of all races, religions and genders," he said. 

When faced with difficulty in his own Air Force career, Gen. Rice said he often looks to one of his role models for inspiration: Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., Commander of the fabled Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, Gen. Davis was the first African American to become a general in the Air Force. 

While attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, however, he was shunned. Other cadets refused to speak with him except for official reasons. He had no roommate in the dormitory; no one was assigned to his tent in the field; and he ate his meals alone. 

"B.O. Davis Jr. overcame great odds to achieve great things in his life," said Gen. Rice. "When I think of the big challenges I face, all I need to do is think about all that he overcame and my burdens seem to be a little less heavy." 

Black History Month was established in 1976 by The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. The month-long celebration is an expansion on Negro History Week, which was established in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, director of what was then known as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.