Decorated Diplomat

Lessons learned at MSU Denver helped Joe Rice become a master in diplomacy — in Colorado and overseas.

By Pat Rooney

Publish Date: June 23, 2015

Photo: Dave Neligh

It was 2003 and Joe Rice (B.A. history ’89) was half a world away in a land that couldn’t be more different than his home. As an Army lieutenant colonel, he was assigned to be a liaison of sorts between the United States and its allies and the municipal governments attempting to rise from the ruins in Iraq.

It was an unenviable challenge, yet one Rice was more than ready to tackle. He found himself relying on lessons learned during his tenure as mayor of Glendale, Colorado — in addition to his time as a history major at MSU Denver.

Rice — whose military awards include two Bronze Stars, a Joint Meritorious Service Medal, an Iraq Campaign Medal and the Combat Action Badge — ultimately tapped into his Colorado connections while helping to establish the new Baghdad city council in the aftermath of the war.

“We literally began holding hundreds of neighborhood meetings around Baghdad, where the people of Baghdad selected representatives for what became the city council,” Rice said. “There were some tie-ins for me to the Denver area at that time. There were several of us on that team who were native to Colorado. Some people I knew previously, some people I didn’t.

“When we were forming the council we started to get questions like, ‘Oh, how should we conduct public hearings?’ We talked through various options. Someone wanted to form a women’s shelter. I had no idea how to do that. But I called the United Way here and put them in touch with the person. There was a great deal of that early connection between the metro Denver area and Baghdad. And to some degree it still exists to this day,” he said.

Combining military relations with municipal politics clearly was a natural fit for Rice, who has more than 30 years of military experience in addition to serving as Glendale’s mayor from 1996 through 2003. With the Iraq War heating up, Rice eventually made five different overseas deployments totaling three years of service. He remains a colonel in the Army Reserve.

Rice spent two terms working in the Colorado state legislature, serving from 2007 to 2011. He also served as a project officer for the Colorado National Guard during United Nations peacekeeping missions in Bosnia before his multiple deployments to Iraq.

These days Rice is director of government relations at Lockheed Martin, essentially once again working as a liaison, this time between his company and government officials. He is fond of his days at MSU Denver — it’s where he met his wife of 25 years, Kendall (B.S. exercise physiology ’90) — and his position makes Rice uniquely qualified to assess the University’s ambitions with its proposed Aerospace and Engineering Sciences (AES) initiative.

“It’s doing what Metro always does — looking at what the workforce needs and what people are going to need to be employable,” Rice said. “It’s designing curricula to meet the needs of the future workforce. I think with the AES building, there’s already a need now. That need is going to do nothing but grow, and Metro is at the cutting edge of meeting that niche.”