From MSU Denver to Baghdad
Lessons learned at alma mater helped alumnus become a master in diplomacy.
It was 2003 and Joe Rice 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 and served 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 during the course of the conflict. He remains a colonel in the Army Reserve.
In addition to his time as the mayor of Glendale, Rice spent two separate two-year terms working in the Colorado Legislature, serving from 1997 to 2001. Prior to his service in Iraq throughout the first decade of the new century, Rice also served as a project officer for the Colorado National Guard during United Nations peacekeeping missions in Bosnia.
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.