In the ninth grade he made up his mind. Lt. Gen. Timothy M. Ray, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, had dreams of flying his whole life and, at the end of his freshman year of high school, determined the Air Force Academy would make his dream a reality.
Thirty years after graduating from the Academy and more than 4,000 hours in seven military aircraft, Ray’s focus has shifted to that of a strategic leader and commander of operational Air Forces in Europe and Africa.
The general outlined his priorities and shared his vision for the future of the 3rd AF and 17th EAF during an interview Aug. 7 on Ramstein.
“It’s not about what you are here to do, but why you are here to do it,” Ray stressed. “Europe is a very strategic place at an important time in history, and the reason we are here is American airpower. You are not just here to execute a flying schedule or process reports. You are here to produce American airpower. What you are doing makes a difference in the world.”
Ray explained that the U.S. Air Force is able to respond quickly to support U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Central Command priorities because of the forces stationed here.
“We can make an immediate impact for peace and stability in these areas,” Ray said. “It’s different than being in the states. Our presence and our capabilities directly support two combatant commanders in executing the mission we have right here in front of us every day.”
He said that while the command supports many contingency operations, he still has an obligation to ensure the Airmen in his command are organized, trained and equipped properly.
“We have to keep a very careful balance between operational missions and training, and we have to make sure that balance is correct,” Ray said.
He said whether it’s an operational mission or a training exercise, leaders set the tone for success in any unit.
“Leaders strike a vision for the future and chart the course for change,” Ray said. “My job is to lead leaders and set the culture and the climate.”
The success of an organization can be traced back to the climate a commander has fostered. Ray hopes to foster a climate that values a balance of work and family. He and his wife have been married for 28 years and have four children.
He said his family’s support has been invaluable throughout his career.
“When you can choose between work and family, choose your family,” Ray said, “because there will be times where you can’t choose, and your family needs to know when those times are. The peace and happiness you get with your family when you are out of the military is worth 10 times more than any rank you will ever make.”
The DeLand, Fla., native said that aside from his family, his main source of motivation comes from his pride in airpower and the faith he has in his peers.
“The people I work with are just incredible,” Ray said. “It is absolutely fascinating to be working the operational issues along the strategic side of Europe and Africa. I can’t think of a more exciting place in the world to be than right here. This is the best job in the U.S. Air Force right now.”