From an Air Force ROTC student to commanding NATO, Joseph Ralston has become the senior ranking airman Kentucky has ever produced.
In 2003, Ralston completed a distinguished 37-year Air Force career as Commander, US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO. As the second USAF officer to be named as NATO commander, General Ralston contributed to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of the NATO member nations while commanding approximately 65,000 troops from 39 NATO and other nations participating in ongoing operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He led the efforts to integrate the three nations that were admitted to NATO in 1999 and oversaw the process to invite seven additional nations to join NATO in 2002.
As Commander of the US European Command from 2000 to 2003, General Ralston was the senior US military officer and commander of all US forces in an area of responsibility that covers more than 21 million square miles and includes 93 nations. This territory extends from the North Cape of Norway, through the waters of the Baltic and Mediterranean seas, most of Europe, parts of the Middle East, to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
General Ralston served two tours as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1996-2000), the nation’s second highest-ranking military officer. In that role, General Ralston chaired the powerful Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), which validated the requirements for nearly every program of the Department of Defense.
His previous assignment was commander of the US Air Force Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. He has also commanded the Alaskan Command and the Alaskan NORAD Region. He has served as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Air Force for Plans and Operations, as Director of Tactical Programs in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, and as Director of Air Force Operational Requirements.
A native of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, General Ralston entered the Air Force in 1965 through the ROTC program upon graduation from Miami University in Ohio. His stellar career included commands at squadron, wing, numbered air force and major command levels as well as a variety of staff and management assignments. He is a command pilot with more than 2,500 flying hours, including 147 combat missions over Laos and North Vietnam, flying Republic F-105 fighter-bombers and F-105 Wild Weasel jets. Among his medals and awards, he holds Ralston received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with 19 oak leaf clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal with four oak leaf clusters.
He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Cohen Group of international consultants.