RAF MILDENHALL, England --
Senior Airman Christopher Francis, 100th Security Forces Squadron information assurance officer, at RAF Mildenhall, England, displayed great resilience on his journey to becoming the 2019 100th SFS Airman of the Year.
Francis, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., cultivated a unique set of skills as a cave and cliff rescue service volunteer before enlisting in the Air Force.
He might have continued on this path if it weren’t for several tragedies, the first being the death of his father, that would influence him to join the military.
“He was a big force in my life,” said Francis. “So after that, I felt like it was time to leave Chattanooga. I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I had no direction.”
Not long after, a terrorist attack provided the necessary direction for Francis, motivating him to enlist.
“Before that attack, I never really felt like it was my fight,” stated Francis. “But after that happened, it became personal and I told my wife, I wanted to join the military.”
During the enlistment process, a potential cancerous growth was detected in his body, and he had to see a specialist. Luckily, the growth was benign, and he was able to secure a slot as a pararescueman - a job with many parallels to his rescue experience.
Francis was soon in the heart of Texas completing the intense pararescue indoctrination course.
“It’s the most difficult physical thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Francis. “It was incredibly hard, day in and day out, abusing your body over and over.”
About half way through the course, he began to feel pain in his leg. After visiting the doctor and receiving an MRI, he received bad news.
“I had two bulging disks,” said Francis. “Then they developed into crushed disks. Now they’re completely dead.”
Deciding to prioritize his health over the uncertain future of his pararescue career, he withdrew from the course.
“There was a part of me that was really just disheartened and ashamed,” said Francis. “I felt like I had let everybody down. Thinking back, it was incredibly difficult to face.”
His situation became even worse when a paperwork error led to him being transferred into security forces.
“Security forces as far as a career field is incredible, but it’s not what I intended to do,” said Francis. “My grandad, uncle, dad and brother were all cops. I personally never had any interest in being one.”
Between all the training Francis had gone through, his time at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland was approaching a year.
“It was just a long, dark period,” said Francis. “I spent a lot of time by myself when I was in security forces tech school. It was incredibly difficult.”
Things began to change for him when he started to focus his energy on others by serving as an office assistant after his graduation from security forces training.
“The training operations center was looking for a student to help process people’s orders who were holdovers,” said Francis. “So I was like, ‘I’ll do it.’ Everybody thought I was crazy.”
Francis came away with four letters of appreciation after his time as an assistant, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“Redefine your view of success. That was one of my big issues when I first got put in security forces,” said Francis. “In my mind I wasn’t successful, because success to me at that point was becoming pararescue. Now I redefine success as the amount of people that I help.”
Since arriving at RAF Mildenhall, Francis has done just that for his squadron.
“He has changed our alternate base defense operations center, which was a wing issue, from a gate shack into a hardened facility,” said Staff Sgt. Alex McAlister, 100th SFS unit deployment manager. “He also reinvented our massive arming roster utilizing spreadsheets which is now probably saving us 20 hours a week.”
Francis is leaving RAF Mildenhall soon for Kadena Air Base, Japan, but he aims to continue to approach his work and the obstacles he faces with the same beliefs that have served him well thus far.
“Resiliency is a choice,” said Francis. “At times, people act like it’s just something inherent to specific individuals, but it’s not. Once you choose to be resilient once, it gets easier and easier.”