PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. --
In 2002, the senior staff at Pease Air National Guard Base hired a contractor as the manager for the Airmen and Family Readiness Program. They may not have known at the time but her perseverance and dedication to the program would create a silent force at Pease that is one of the most-respected A&FRP in the nation. Due to her driving passion, the wing has been able to fund and support a program that has touched every single member of this unit in some way or another.
Bonnie Rice has served as the A&FRP manager at Pease for 16 years and is scheduled to retire in September 2018.
She built the program from a small volunteer deployment dinner into the multifaceted organization it is today.
“I was persistent,” said Rice, laughing. “I’ve spent a lot of time fostering relationships with programs like the VA, community resources. When I first started, I would go to Hanscom or the Portsmouth Navy Base to ask for resources and their answer would be, ‘you’re not active duty, the programs are not available to you.’ So I kept going to the meetings until finally they said, ‘OK she’s not going to go away.’”
Rice has managed every part of the program, from organizing child care and the monthly deployed family meetings, to working with the retirees.
She has grown the program to encompass each part of the military family here at Pease.
“I have a lot of pride in this job and I never thought of it as a job,” said Rice. “It was my calling, it’s my passion to take care of airmen; right from the person in student flight through the retirees and their spouses.”
During her 16 years at Pease, she built strong relationships with the Department of Veteran Affairs, the chaplain staff here, and many other community resources. She has collaborated with them all to host countless events for the well-being of the airmen and their families.
“Bonnie has helped cultivate a culture of the ‘Guard family’ here at the 157th,”said Chief Master Sgt. Matthew S. Heiman, command chief of the 157th Air Refueling Wing. “Her tireless efforts have had a positive effect on numerous members and families, past and present. Her guidance and support during pre-deployments and post-deployments are second to none.”
Rice said, looking back, she is most proud of her career when she sees the effect the family program has had on her children.
“I had one instance where I had my daughter with me at a volunteer event,” she said. “I said, ‘Brady, can you go sit with this little girl?’ The girl’s mother had been deployed and she was having a really hard time living with her stepfather. When we got back in the car, Brady told me the whole story. I saw it made an impact on her and allowed her to see ‘wow that’s why you do this job mom.’”
Rice explained that her kids are so giving and resilient today because they went to the family events and activities as children.
“My kids came to the events and didn’t realize they were being voluntold,” she said, laughing. “They never minded that I would miss their events or the greatest basketball shot because another family needed me.”
Heiman said Rice’s legacy emphasizes what it means to be a family in the Guard. Her collective efforts with the program were recognized on a National level on three occasions, setting the standard for all ANG units to model after.
“Our members and our families are most efficient and effective when our Airmen and Family Readiness Program works hand in hand with our Mission readiness,” he added. “Bonnie has touched my life personally and professionally with some of the very services made available through the Airman & Family Readiness Program. She would often demonstrate service before self, when tending to the most sensitive of issues with our airmen and their families.”
Rice said she would love to volunteer at events like the winter carnival and she hopes to maintain her involvement with the retirees, the Seacoast Salute program and Seacoast Veterans conference.
After retiring from the program she will be moving back to New York to be with her children and grandchildren.
“And I’ve already made a couple connections back there too so I can continue working with the marriage retreats,” she quickly added.
As she leaves, Rice said she hopes her airmen will continue to take pride in what they do, take care of their families and take care of other airmen and families around them.
“I will miss so many of the people and the challenges,” she confessed. “I appreciated the support of Colonel Martell, General Protzman, Father Bob, Chief Nadaeu and Chief Blonigen, giving me the ball and letting me run with it. Running this program has been a true honor and leaving is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”