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First Name: Joseph

Last Name: Ralston

Birthplace: Hopkinsville, KY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: W.

Date of Birth: 04 November 1943

Rank: General

Years Served: 1965-2003
Joseph W. Ralston

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Joseph W. Ralston

General, U.S. Air Force

Joseph W. Ralston was born on 4 November 1943 in Hopkinsville, KY.

Military Career

Ralston served in the U.S. Air Force from 1965 until January 2003. He served in operational command at squadron, wing, numbered air force and major command, as well as various staff and management positions at every level of the U.S. Air Force.

On 1 July 1995, Ralston was promoted to the four-star rank of General and assigned as Commander, Air Combat Command (COMACC). In 1996, he was named Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (VCJCS) and remained there until May 2000. He was then assigned as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) and Commander-in-Chief, U.S. European Command (USCINCEUR), 2000-2003.

General Ralston retired from the Air Force on 1 March 2003.


1965 Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry, Miami University, Oxford, OH

1976 Master of Arts degree in Personnel Management, Central Michigan University

1976 Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS

1984 National War College, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC

1989 John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA


July 1965 - August 1966, student, pilot training, Laughlin AFB, TX.

August 1966 - April 1967, student, F-105 combat crew training school, Nellis AFB, NV.

April 1967 - October 1969, F-105 combat crew member, 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, later 12th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan.

October 1969 - December 1969, student, F-105 Wild Weasel pilot training, Nellis AFB, NV.

January 1970 - October 1970, F-105 Wild Weasel pilot, 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand.

October 1970 - December 1971, F-105 Wild Weasel Instructor Pilot, 66th Fighter Weapons Squadron, Nellis AFB, NV.

December 1971 - June 1973, Fighter Requirements Officer and Project Officer for F-15 and lightweight fighter programs, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Requirements, Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley AFB, VA.

June 1973 - June 1975, Assistant Operations Officer, 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, then Chief, Standardization and Evaluation Division, 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson AFB, NC.

June 1975 - June 1976, student, Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS.

June 1976 - July 1979, Tactical Fighter Requirements Officer, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, DC.

July 1979 - July 1980, Operations Officer, later, Commander, 68th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Moody AFB, GA.

July 1980 - August 1983, Special Assistant, later, Executive Officer to the Commander, Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley AFB, VA.

August 1983 - June 1984, student, National War College, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC.

June 1984 - February 1986, Special Assistant for low observables technology, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, DC.

February 1986 - March 1987, Commander, 56th Tactical Training Wing, MacDill AFB, FL.

March 1987 - June 1990, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, later, Deputy Chief of Staff for Requirements, Headquarters Tactical Air Command, Langley AFB, VA.

June 1990 - December 1991, Director of Tactical Programs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Washington, DC.

December 1991 - July 1992, Director of Operational Requirements, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, DC.

July 1992 - July 1994, Commander, Alaskan Command, Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, 11th Air Force and Joint Task Force Alaska, Elmendorf AFB, AK.

July 1994 - June 1995, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, DC.

June 1995 - February 1996, Commander, Headquarters Air Combat Command, Langley AFB, VA.

March 1996 - April 2000, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, DC.

May 2000 - 2003, Commander, U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO, Mons, Belgium.

Flight Data

Rating: Command Pilot

Flight hours: Over 2,500

Aircraft flown: F-105D/F/G, F-4C/D/E, F-16A and F-15A/C

Medals and Awards

Defense Distinguished Service Medal (2 Awards)

Air Force Distinguished Service Medal

Legion of Merit (3 Awards)

Distinguished Flying Cross (4 Awards)

Meritorious Service Medal (3 Awards)

Air Medal (20 Awards)

Air Force Commendation Medal (5 Awards)

Presidential Unit Citation

Joint Meritorious Unit Award

Outstanding Unit Award

Organizational Excellence Award (2 Awards)

L├ęgion d'honneur (Officier) (France)

Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany

Military Order of the Cross of the Eagle, First Class (Estonia)

Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm

Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960 Date Bar


Command Pilot Badge
Joint Chiefs of Staff Identification Badge

Promotion Dates

Second Lieutenant - 24 July 1965

First Lieutenant - 24 January 1967

Captain - 24 July 1968

Major - 1 December 1973

Lieutenant Colonel - 1 April 1978

Colonel - 1 June 1981

Brigadier General - 1 March 1988

Major General - 1 August 1990

Lieutenant General - 13 July 1992

General - 1 July 1995

Corporate Career

He is currently Director of the Timken Company and the URS Corporation; is on the Board of Directors of Lockheed Martin and has been Vice Chairman of The Cohen Group, since March 2003. He also sits on the Advisory Board of the American Turkish Council, an American-Turkish lobby group.

Background Data


Ralston became Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1996. In 1997, at the retirement of John M. Shalikashvili, the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ralston was the top candidate to succeed him to the highest position in the military. A scandal erupted when it became public that he had an adulterous affair with a CIA employee during the 1980s. Ralston claimed this was while he and his wife Linda were separated, however she disputed that assertion, claiming the affair continued and led to their 1988 divorce.

Defense Secretary William Cohen backed Ralston despite the controversy, declaring that Ralston's secret, adulterous relationship 13 years ago wouldn't "automatically disqualify" him from becoming the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There were allegations of double standards, as First Lieutenant Kelly Flinn was forced out of the Air Force after being charged with adultery a month before.

Ralston withdrew his name from consideration and remained Vice Chairman until 2000, when he was appointed Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. He served in that position from 2000 to 2003, after taking over from U.S. Army General Wesley Clark. In this capacity, he was the highest-ranking officer in NATO. He retired on 1 March 2003.

Assignment as Special Envoy & Conflict of Interest

In September 2006, Ralston was assigned as Special Envoy for Countering the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) by President George W. Bush. The PKK is a Kurdish separatist group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., Turkey and the European Union.

Simultaneously with his diplomatic role as "anti PKK coordinator," Ralston holds various senior positions in defense and security-related corporations. Critics allege Ralston is using his influence as special envoy to secure large governmental weapons contracts for the corporations he has directorship over. The Boston Globe described him as "an arms merchant in diplomat's clothing."

On 26 October 2006, the Kurdish National Congress of North America issued a press release demanding "the immediate resignation" of General Joseph Ralston:

Ralston's appointment came at a time when Turkey was finalizing the sale of 30 new Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft (approx. $3 billion) and as Turkey was due to make a decision on the $10 billion purchase of the new Lockheed Martin F-35 JSF aircraft. The sale for the F-16's was approved by the U.S. Congress in mid-October and Turkey's decision in favor of the F-35 JSF was announced on October 25, shortly after Ralston's recent stay in Ankara, ostensibly to counter the PKK.

Since the PKK insurgency began in 1983, 30,000 people have died and over 3,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed, often by U.S. supplied planes. Critics are concerned that hard line anti-PKK policies influenced by conflicting interests would compromise the prospects for long-term solution to the Kurdish-Turkish issue.

On 1 October 2006, the PKK announced a unilateral cease-fire in south-east Turkey, a move that the Turkish government has rejected:

"The PKK had to stop fighting anyway because of the winter, but the PKK, backed by Iraqi Kurds, are acting as if this were a major political decision, not a move dictated by a practical necessity. Of course, we don't take it seriously."

Speaking before the Eurasian Strategic Research Center (ASAM) in Istanbul, Ralston mirrored the Turkish government's rhetoric:

"I want to be clear on this point: The US will not negotiate with the PKK. We will not ask Turkey to negotiate with the PKK. And I pledge to you that I will never meet with the PKK."

Miscellaneous Service

Bill Clinton writes in his memoirs My Life that Ralston was used to resolve a potentially sticky situation with Pakistan in which the U.S. would use Pakistani airspace to strike at the Al-Qaeda organization meeting in Afghanistan following the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. There was U.S. concern that Pakistan's intelligence services would tip off the targets or even worse assume the missiles over Pakistan came from India, potentially triggering a nuclear conflict on the Indian sub-continent. As Clinton writes on page 799 of My Life, "we decided to send the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Ralston, to have dinner with the top Pakistani military commander at the time the attacks were scheduled. Ralston would tell him (the Pakistani general) what was happening a few minutes before our missiles invaded Pakistani airspace, too late to alert the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, but in time to avoid having them shot down or sparking a counterattack on India."

Ralston was one of at least three retired four-star generals asked by the Bush administration to oversee both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Ralston and the two other generals declined this position.

Honoree ID: 816   Created by: MHOH




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