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‘Local boy’ pins on third star

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Clinton Atkins
  • Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
Tony Rock never imagined his career would take him this far, but the University of Texas-San Antonio alum and Alamo City native pinned on his third star here June 19, right where his Air Force journey began 32 years ago.

Lt. Gen. Rock, who grew up in Hollywood Park and graduated from Churchill High School in 1977, never gave military service much thought back then. And even though his father, Master Sgt. Bob Rock, retired from the Army in 1969 and instilled in him drive and discipline, it was his dad's second career as a teacher at MacArthur High School that most influenced him during his college years.

Halfway through his tenure at UTSA, while pursuing a history degree, Rock pondered about following in his father's footsteps as a teacher. Then, as happenstance would have it, a curious Rock wandered into an Air Force recruiter's office. Soon after his encounter, Rock took the Air Force Officer Qualification Test and discovered he was qualified to fly airplanes.

With a plan now in place, Rock seized the opportunity to serve and was offered a pilot training slot at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas.

"I decided I would give it a shot even though I had no flight experience. After all, the commitment was only six years after completion of flight school," he said.

After earning his commission from Officer Training School at Medina Annex in San Antonio in 1982, Rock's life seemed all the more fortuitous when he married his wife, Kim Graves, a Uvalde, Texas, native whom he met in 1980 while she worked at a law firm in San Antonio.

"It was an exciting time for Kim and I to be entering the Air Force as the [President Ronald] Reagan years began," Rock said. "It really doesn't seem that long ago and I can tell you don't blink because three decades goes by in a flash."

His Air Force career took off quickly with six years spent at Laughlin AFB as a student and an instructor pilot, then four more years as an F-15C fighter pilot at Langley AFB, Va. During that time, the couple had two sons, A.J. and Bennett, and a daughter, Meggie. Bennett, the middle child, continues the Rock family legacy of military service as a helicopter pilot in the Army, soon to report to Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.

Nineteen duty assignments have come and gone since Rock swore an oath to defend his country in 1982. Included in that are nearly two years of deployments during Operations Desert Storm and New Dawn and 150 combat hours in the F-15C. The general's commitment today burns even brighter with the pinning of his third star in his hometown.

"As I've continued to serve, the Air Force has graciously given me more opportunities to advance while continuing to contribute, and I hope I am up to the next challenge," he said.

"The chance to have this ceremony is my hometown is unbelievably fortuitous," said Rock. "I am very excited to be surrounded by so much of my family and so many local friends who've been so supportive over so many years. Many of them have never been to a ceremony like this and have had little exposure to our military, so it's really a chance for them to share in the experience in a meaningful way. In many ways, the people here with me today are responsible for me being who I am today, so this is my chance to give back to them just a little."

He recounts how different this promotion is from his last one, to major general in October 2011.

"That one was executed in Baghdad, Iraq, and my family observed via a video teleconference link that we established between Baghdad and Randolph Air Force Base," Rock said. "It was truly unique as two Iraqi generals pinned on my rank as my family watched from half a world away."

Judging from his long list of achievements that include several stints as a commander as well as a decorated combat pilot, few would assume he never expected to make it this far.

"I always thought if I retired as colonel I would have been exceptionally successful," said Rock.

"I often wonder, 'Why me?'" he said. "As I think back, I can name dozens of my peers who could have done as good, or better, a job as me, but for whatever reason the Air Force chose to let me continue to serve. The opportunities I've had, to be an instructor, to fly fighters both in training and combat, to be assigned to Germany and visit so much of our world, to serve with the finest officers and enlisted men and women in the world, for my children to have had such diversity in their lives, to help rebuild the Iraqi Air Force, and to have had the educational opportunities both in schools and in jobs, where do you find that kind of experience if not our Air Force?"

His next opportunity will take him to the other side of the world where he will serve as Chief, Office of the Defense Representative-Pakistan, at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.

"I want to represent the Air Force, Department of Defense, and the United States in the best way possible working with a very critical partner in a part of the world crucial to our future," Rock said. "What we are doing there with the Pakistani military is important to the region but it is even more important to global security when you consider all the factors in South Asia --terrorism, and extremism, the presence of nuclear weapons, the relationship between Pakistan and its neighbors to the west and east [Afghanistan and India], a fragile but promising economy, and a population of nearly 200 million people.

"Our relationship with Pakistan has been on a better trajectory over the last couple of years, but there are some real friction points we will have to work through as our relationship continues to evolve," he said. "My job is to make sure we continue on the improving trajectory and that we take on the tough work to meet common objectives that will lead to security and stability and a better future."

Rock claims that keeping South Texas a constant presence in his family's life served as a, pun intended, rock-solid foundation to build their lives upon.

"Perhaps it is most my sense that, for both me and my family, South Texas is really home," he said. "Kim always took the kids home to Uvalde for the entire summer regardless of where we were. That sense of home has served us well and really gave our kids the anchor they needed growing up.

"It is important to understand that home is not where the Air Force stations you; home is where the people you love and those who love you are. For me, that is South Texas," said Rock.