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Holm Center inducts first ROTC 'Distinguished Alumni'

During the parade of AFROTC cadets who finished their four weeks of field training at Maxwell Aug. 14, retired Gen. Ronald E. Keys was inducted as the first member of AFROTC “Distinguished Alumni.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Jamie Pitcher)

During the parade of AFROTC cadets who finished their four weeks of field training at Maxwell Aug. 14, retired Gen. Ronald E. Keys was inducted as the first member of AFROTC “Distinguished Alumni.” (U.S. Air Force photo/Jamie Pitcher)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The honor of being the first person inducted into the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps' Distinguished Graduates went to a former commander of Air Combat Command. 

Retired Gen. Ronald Keys, a distinguished graduate of Kansas State University's ROTC program, was at Air University Holm Center for Officer Accession and Citizen Development at Maxwell to participate in the induction ceremony and to speak to a graduating class of ROTC cadets, Aug. 14.

"I'm quite honored by this," he said. "When I look back at the people I came into the Air Force with, and what they have done, I'm really overwhelmed by this tribute."

The general said he was fortunate in his Air Force career to often be, "in the right place at the right time," and was able to accomplish everything he wanted to accomplish during his years in the Air Force.

"I grew up on a small farm in Kansas, and to be able to go the places I've gone, see the people I've seen and fly the Aircraft, such as the MIG-21 and MIG-25, I've flown, well, it is phenomenal," General Keys said. "I had the opportunity to walk around Moscow by myself after the wall came down, and had it not been for the Air Force, I would never have been able to do that, or, for that matter, have the friends I have today,"

He said in a way he was lucky that his first assignment was Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, as that experience impressed upon him what the military is about.

"In a combat zone, you're immediately in life-and-death situations," the general said. "You start losing the people around you, many of whom are friends, and you quickly learn the importance of the training you received."

General Keys said he has been asked if he has any regrets about his Air Force career. He said his answer is that people come into a career not really knowing where it is going to take them, but with the Air Force, he immediately recognized the discipline, and that the service had plans and great organization, and that eliminated any regrets.

The general said he witnessed much change in the Air Force over the years he served, and the rate of change he sees today is "remarkable."

"I look at the Airmen today, and they are so much broader in their thinking than I was. They understand technology so much better than I did," he said. "And, the technological changes are so apparent. It used to take us days to get information around the world, not hours."

General Keys said another example of the change is that last year the Air Force trained more unmanned aerial system pilots than fighter pilots, and he feels the service will continue to focus on UAS technology because it offers a "real strategic advantage" over pilots flying aircraft.

"As long as we do the math, and do things for the right reasons, the Air Force will prevail," he said. "As I told the graduating ROTC cadets earlier today, our job is to go out and fight America's wars. Those 'wars' may be humanitarian relief, building roads or actual combat, but we need to be able to do that. I think we have our eye on the right things, the right leaders and on our corps values."

General Keys said he has been "staying busy" since his retirement in 2007. He has his own consulting business that works with the military on cyberspace matters, and gives product advice to advanced technology companies.

"I help companies decide where to take their research. Even if a technology works perfectly, companies have to ask if there is an application for it, and is it better than what already exists," he said. "Often, a technology looks good because it is new and shinny, but does it really do the job better?"

The general said one thing he misses about being in the Air Force is base visits and having the opportunity to see Airmen in the field, or, "where the rubber meets the road."

"I guess when I first retired from the Air Force and was away from it, I worried that the Air Force was going down hill," he said. "Then, I got an opportunity like this to come back, and I now know the Air Force of the future is in good hands."