Air Force Reserve officer breaks ground as leader of cadet squadron
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
Maj. DeAnna Franks had a dream of returning to the Air Force Academy, where she graduated in 1999, to work with cadets.
But she thought it might not happen after she left active duty in 2007 and joined the Air Force Reserve to be able to start a family.
However, this year Franks, who has a 5-year-old daughter, was finally able to see her dream came true. She is the first Air Force Reserve officer selected to be an AOC - air officer commanding - of a cadet squadron. The academy has 40 squadrons, each with 100 to 105 cadets, she said. The officer works with the squadrons' cadet leaders and helps develop and mentor cadets.
On Thursday, first-year cadets, who are coming straight out of high school, will start showing up at the Air Force Academy, she said. In four years, they will graduate and become second lieutenants in the Air Force.
"It's a complete thrill," said Franks, 34, who has reported for a three-year stint at Colorado Springs. "This is a dream that I've had in my back pocket."
Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., the chief of the Air Force Reserve, worked with academy officials to open those positions to reservists. Franks competed and was selected.
"It was pretty exciting that it was available for a Reserve member," she said.
In 2007, Franks came to then-Pope Air Force Base to work as a pilot with the 95th Airlift Squadron, which flies the C-130H airplane. Then she was director of staff for the 440th Airlift Wing commander.
"Maj. Franks is an outstanding officer and a perfect fit for the air officer commanding job," said Karl A. Schmitkons, vice commander of the 440th Airlift Wing and a 1984 graduate of the Air Force Academy. "She has an unflappable, level-headed approach to solving problems, and her proven leadership skills will make her a great AOC."
While on active duty, Franks flew C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was on the first C-130 mission into Iraq and landed in Iran in 2003 as part of humanitarian relief efforts. While on the ground in Iran, she stayed in the back of the airplane to avoid offending Iranian sensitivities about women, she said.
"When I was at the Air Force Academy, all I knew was active-duty people," Franks said. "I didn't really realize there were these other options of Reserve and Guard."
She did not become aware of the Air Force Reserve until she went to pilot training and met people from Charleston's Air Force Reserve C-17 wing who knew which type of airplane they would fly. In the Air Force Reserve, units do their own hiring. In the active-duty Air Force, airmen can be assigned to any unit.
Michael Donley, the secretary of the Air Force, has said as budgets decline, the Air Force will continue to find ways to improve how the Air Force's active, Guard and Reserve airmen and resources are used. The Total Force Integration initiative dates back to 1968 when the Air Force augmented active-duty crews with Reserve crews to get more use out of airplanes, Donley said.
"Since Total Force Integration is the future of the Air Force and she has been immersed in TFI here at Pope Field, Maj. Franks will do a great job educating the young leaders of tomorrow on what to expect," Schmitkons said.
The secretary of the Air Force encourages Air Force Reserve members to be active in their communities. Franks was involved as a volunteer in the Fayetteville Liberty Ladies event April 26 that brought military women together.
Franks was a leader of cadets even when she was a cadet herself. At the Air Force Academy, she swam for four years and was a cadet squadron commander her senior year.
"In addition, with her experience as an instructor in pilot training, she understands how to teach and mentor the newer generation," Schmitkons said.
Military editor Henry Cuningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3585.
©2012 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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