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Trailblazing Colonel Reflects On Family Legacy
by U.S. Air Force Anastazia Clouting
Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling
July 18, 2022

U.S. Air Force Col. Erica Rabe (pronounced rah-bee), vice commander of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling’s first all-female command team, is a fourth generation Airman. Before the Air Force was established as a separate service, her great-grandfather, Col. Harold Sloan, who retired from the Army Air Forces, served in another breakthrough capacity as one of the U.S. military’s first aviators.

This heritage shaped Rabe, whose father, a pilot who served in Vietnam, died when she was 5 years old. “My mother never remarried, so we stayed attached to the local base in Ohio. They became a second family to me,” she said.

U.S. Air Force Col. Erica Rabe, outgoing 11th Wing vice commander, marks her May 1, 2019 promotion to colonel with husband Col. Nathan Rabe at her father's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Rabe is retiring this year after 24 years in the U.S. Air Force. (Photo courtesy of Col. Erica Rabe)
U.S. Air Force Col. Erica Rabe, outgoing 11th Wing vice commander, marks her May 1, 2019 promotion to colonel with husband Col. Nathan Rabe at her father's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Rabe is retiring this year after 24 years in the U.S. Air Force. (Photo courtesy of Col. Erica Rabe)

Her maternal grandfather, retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Junior Nichols, took on the role of chief father figure. Nichols, an enlisted pilot and flight engineer in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, volunteered at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in his retirement. During Rabe’s childhood, he gave her insider tours of the many planes he flew as an Airman.

“In his time, it was common for aircrew to be checked out in multiple airframes,” said Rabe. “My grandfather flew everything – B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, B-36s, and many others. Ultimately, he spent the remainder of his flying time in the KC-97 tanker. Later, my father flew the KC-135 tanker, refueling fighters and bombers over Vietnam. Growing up, I knew I wanted to be a pilot.”

Early in Rabe’s Air Force career, however, an unexpected health concern postponed her pilot qualification. At the time, her husband who is also an Air Force colonel, was in training, and the delay would prolong their separation.

Rabe recalled, “It was like my dad was telling me, ‘This is not your path.’ Instead, I became a personnel officer, and it ended up being more compatible with my husband’s career field. I’ve loved my career – every second of it. Each assignment has felt like a family. Coming to the D.C. area for my last assignment has brought everything full circle. When I promoted to colonel, I used my great-grandfather’s eagles and pinned them onto my uniform while standing at my father’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. I believe my father would have been a colonel, too, so I feel I’m living his legacy.

“Over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor younger Airmen and tried to pass along the steady calm my grandfather modeled for me. It’s what I trained to do, it’s what I love to do, and it’s exactly how I’d like to close out my career,” she said.

In advance of Rabe’s retirement, Col. Cat Logan, commander of JBAB, shared her appreciation for Rabe’s input and effort.

“I am so fortunate to have had Col. Erica ‘Deuce’ Rabe as my wingman this past year and am grateful for everything she's done for me and the Flock [all team members serving on JBAB]. As she retires, I will miss serving with her every day, but I'm excited for her, her husband, Nate, and their son, Ryan. I know she will continue to do everything she does with H.E.A.R.T. [Honesty, Effort, Attitude, Respect and Teamwork].”

Rabe’s service is a fitting tribute to her grandfather’s guidance.

The themes of mentorship and teamwork are hallmarks of Rabe’s career in the Air Force, which has brought together people from across America in a community of shared mission. Rabe, like her father before her, has honored her family’s legacy by devoting her life to her country.

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