USAFA Distinguished Graduate Award honorees announced

 The United States Air Force Academy and the Association of Graduates are proud to announce five Distinguished Graduate Award honorees for 2019.

Col. (Ret.) Leslie Denend, Class of 1963; Mr. Fletcher “Flash” Wiley, Class of 1965; Gen. (Ret.) Norton “Norty” Schwartz, Class of 1973; Gen. (Ret.) Edward Rice Jr., Class of 1978; and Mr. John “Jack” Kucera, Class of 1978, will receive their awards at the annual Founders Day banquet Friday, April 3, 2020, at the Air Force Academy.

  • Early in his career, Col. Denend (Palo Alto, California) flew 196 combat missions in Southeast Asia as an RF-4C pilot. He would later serve as a White House Fellow, before returning to his alma mater to teach economics. He returned to Washington for a variety of positions in the National Security Council, the Air Force Colonel Staff Group, and President Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy staff. After retirement from active duty, Denend became a leader in the technology industry.

  • The first African-American recruited to play football at USAFA, Wiley (Boston, Massachusetts) would suffer an injury and eventually become the Falcons’ head cheerleader. Wiley later became the first African-American USAFA graduate to earn a Fulbright Scholarship. He left the Air Force as a captain, then pursued his Master’s at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business and his law degree from Harvard Law School. He went on to become a prominent leader in the Massachusetts legal, business and civic communities. He has served on the Board of Visitors for both the Academy and Air University.

  • As a command pilot, Gen. Schwartz (McLean, Virginia) accumulated more than 4,400 flying hours in a variety of aircraft. His Air Force background stretches back to the final days of the Vietnam War, when he served as a C-130 crew member during the 1975 airlift evacuation of Saigon. His final military assignment was as the 19th chief of staff of the Air Force from 2008 to 2012. He was nominated for the role by then-President George W. Bush, with most of his tenure served under President Barack Obama. Following retirement, Schwartz became president and chief executive officer of Business Executives for National Security in Washington, D.C. He is poised to assume a new role on Jan. 2 — as president and CEO for the Institute for Defense Analysis.

  • As a cadet, Gen. Rice (San Antonio, Texas) became the first African-American Cadet Wing commander. After graduation, he amassed more than 4,000 flying hours in a variety of aircraft. Rice would eventually command at all levels of the Air Force, including two numbered air forces and a joint command. A White House Fellow, Rice later returned to D.C. as the deputy executive secretary for the National Security Council. He ended his active duty career as commander of the Air Education and Training Command — becoming the first African-American USAFA graduate to earn the rank of four-star general. After retirement, he became a consultant and an active participant in several non-profit organizations. In addition, he is currently the chairman of the USAFA Board of Visitors.

  • A football player while at USAFA, Kucera (Phoenix, Arizona) was seriously injured during the 1977 season and was not commissioned into the Air Force following graduation. He instead went into the heating and air conditioning field in Arizona and became a leader in the industry. Despite not being able to serve on active duty, Kucera has remained very involved with the Academy. He was a founding director of the USAFA Endowment and has served as chairman since 2017. Kucera was instrumental in the fundraising for the Holaday Athletic Center and has been a leader in efforts to modernize Falcon Stadium.

The Academy and AOG have selected Distinguished Graduate Award recipients each year since 2001. The award recognizes alumni who have set themselves apart by making a lifetime of significant contributions to our nation and their communities.

Denend, Wiley, Schwartz, Rice and Kucera bring the total number of USAFA alumni to be honored as Distinguished Graduate awardees to 46.


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