MILFORD, Mass. – It is one of the dilemmas of life… finding the right balance between work and family.
“I think anyone of us can… we walk through our lives comfortably being able to handle two full time jobs,” said Maj. Gen. L. Scott Rice, Commander, Massachusetts Air National Guard.
For a Guardsman, it is a little more complicated.
"I see every Guardsman that is part-time and even some full-time … they sit on this three legged stool of their full-time job, their part-time job and their family," said Rice, a former fighter pilot. "They have to balance it, otherwise the stool with three legs will fall over.”
For Rice, it is even more complicated.
On paper Rice, who despite his title “Chief of Staff and Commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard”, is what is known as a traditional Guardsman, he serves one weekend a month, and his full time job is as a pilot for United Airlines, where he has worked for the past 18 years.
"Time wise, I spend more time in the Guard than I do at United Airlines,” said Rice, who was given the duty as the Commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard by Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General, Massachusetts National Guard last September.
“I work approximately 10 to 13 days a month for the airline and approximately 15 to 20 days a month for the Guard,” said Rice.
He is able to accomplish this feat because the airline has certain standards that need to be met. As long as Rice meets these standards and is ready to fly when he is scheduled to, the airline allows him to spend his time with the Guard.
“The airline is a great job for me because there is a lot of responsibility while you’re at work, there’s a lot of training we have to do to meet that responsibility, but it’s in very clear start and stop dates and times,” said Rice.
This would allow any other Guardsman to balance their “off time” to their unit and family.
Rice however has an additional duty.
“As we accumulate additional duties… sometimes you seek them out and sometimes you get assigned them,” said Rice. "It can help and hurt you in your other jobs.”
Rice’s new “additional duty” is the Air National Guard Assistant to the Commander, United States Air Forces Europe. In short, he is the entire Air Guard’s representative for any and all operations in USAFE. This also means that Rice needs to spend time overseas.
"Europe is in a transformation.” said Rice, “The military engagement (active duty) is downsizing. As they get smaller, the responsibility to engage with each individual country over there remains the same.”
While this may mean that the Air Guard will have a bigger role to play in future operations in Europe, part of Rice’s job is to make sure that the Guard is not being overused to the point that they are unable to complete their state missions.
For example, USAFE might need a number of KC-135 tanker aircraft for a 16 month mid-air refueling mission. One active duty unit can be tasked for the mission. To complete the same mission four different National Guard units from across the nation, each deploying for four months may be activated. This will prevent a state from losing their mid-air refueling capability and having to respond to a major disaster (responding to another Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath) at the same time.
A recent example of this is the recent air operations over Libya, there were Air National Guard assets involved.
“I have found,” said Rice, “The senior leadership… the three-star and the four-stars that sit there in command … they understand this. They understand a lot of the limits on the guard.”
Part of Rice’s mission is to educate the headquarters, wing, unit commands on the Guard’s capabilities and limitations.
“They don’t quite understand it, because they haven’t worked with the Guard that much,” said Rice, “They say ‘You’ve got these tankers over here, why don’t they stay? We’ve got a lot of refueling we’ve got to do.’ That’s where I need to go in and reel those guys back and say ‘We’re here for the operation. The second the operation is done, we’ve got to think about how we disengage. We need to go back in garrison; we need to go back to our training cycle.’”
Rice would then look for new units for these new missions/operations; as these new mission opportunities come up; Rice also needs to make sure that the individual units do not overextend themselves.
“Our challenge is now to be resourced to meet the requirement that we have,” said Rice, “And as Guardsmen not grab on to too much mission, too much requirement, that we become completely operational.”
In order for Rice to complete this new mission, the Air Force authorizes him nearly two and a half times the amount of drill time a normal Guardsman would receive. This does not relieve him of his state drill time requirements; this new job is an additional duty, so the new drill time is added on.
Rice, however, doesn’t consider it a full time job.
“It’s not necessarily full time in the sense that I have to be at it eight hours a day, seven days a week, but… it does take a lot of my time,” he said.
In the midst of all this balancing, Rice is still able to have his own unique “me time”.
“The airline really helps me… because when I go away on an airline trip, I can sit at one location, no distractions,” said Rice, “I don’t have the phone ringing… because that’s my time.”
Flying is one of Rice’s major loves, outside his family, in fact that was the reason he joined the Air Force in the first place. Rice was a fighter pilot on active duty for nearly nine years, but it wasn’t until he joined the Guard that he was given his call sign of “CATFISH”.
“When I was a very young fighter pilot… here I am having to work with a flight line and a flight chief, who ran the flight line, making it very clear that those are his aircraft, he is responsible for them and if I do anything out of the ordinary to hurt his aircraft… they’ll be consequences,” said Rice.
It was after a mission and Rice had landed back at his base that one of the crew chiefs decided to play a prank on the young fighter pilot.
“One of the crew chiefs, as I go through de-arm, puts a tree branch in my pylon to make it look like I flew too low through the trees,” said Rice, “The flight chief sees that… he is not happy with me… he pulls me out of the cockpit and tells me how low I am, and in fact the lowest thing in his life is that catfish in the bottom of the mud pond near our base and I am definitely lower than that.”
It was at this moment that Rice learned one of the things that make the Guard unique.
“I realized that the word family goes beyond my wife and kids, there’s this family that we have in the Guard where this flight chief personally puts his heart and soul into the flight line, the aircraft, the people out there… they all ebb and flow in his heart and soul,” said Rice. ”And even though he’s poking me in the chest because of some perceived idea that I flew through trees, the crew chiefs on the line are so good at their job, that they can turn and refly that jet in such an exact manner… that now it’s all about camaraderie.”
While the spirit of camaraderie and teamwork are some of the things that Rice loves about the Guard, he will tell you that his “right hand man” is his wife Nancy.
The couple has been married for over 30 years. In fact 10 days after the couple married, Rice started his flight training. They have a daughter Alexandra and a son Leon, both of whom are in their 20’s.
As busy as he is the couple makes every effort to spend as much time together as they can. Recently when Rice was attending a conference in Central Mass. that stretched over several days; on the second day, Nancy drove out to see him from the couple’s home in Western Mass. after she finished work. She left early the next morning to return to her job.
“Those are the types of things we do regularly with each other,” said Rice.
The balancing their time together now will be challenging; Rice was only recently assigned to his position in USAFE.
When his duties take him to Europe, Nancy is going to try to spend some time with him. Since many of his orders are for unaccompanied travel, Nancy will buy her own airline tickets.
“I’m able to do my balance… two of the legs of my stool are joined together,” said Rice, “She supports what I do, I support what she does and together we are definitely a team.”
Since Rice has no plans to retire in the near future, he will keep on trying to find the right balance between his two military jobs, his civilian job and his family. He equates this with trying to sit on a stool.“When you think of three or four legs of a stool, “said Rice. "Balance is keeping that stool flat and grounded. If you cut off one of the legs and disregard it, you can find yourself out of balance very quickly.