Valdosta Daily Times

September 7, 2013

Franks brings lifetime of experience to role as 23rd Wing Commander

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

MOODY AFB — It’s a long road that has brought Col. Chad Franks to his current position as 23rd Wing Commander at Moody Air Force Base, but unlike most roads, this one started in the sky.

“I actually had never been on an aircraft until I was a freshman in college,” said Frank. “My brother was stationed at Pearl Harbor. We had to fly and go watch him get married.”

As a freshman at New Orleans University, Franks knew he wanted to go into the Armed Services, but he hadn’t decided which branch to go with. His brother and brother-in-law were in the Navy. He had an uncle in the Air Force, Carl Franks, a man he looked up to who flew in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, but until he got on that plane to Pearl Harbor, he had no idea which way he would go.

“That was the first time I had flown. I thought it was great, the best thing since sliced bread. That’s when I decided right there that’s what I wanted to do...Of course, Carl was appalled.”

When he came back from the wedding, Franks started looking into what he had to do to become a pilot and an officer. He decided to finish his bachelor’s degree at NOU, ultimately finishing his General Studies program, though he admits that his main goal was getting into the pilot’s seat.

“(The degree) was a means to an end.”

After graduation in the early ‘90s, Franks commissioned into the Air Force. He was scheduled to start pilot training, but his dream had to be put on hold.

“I got a notice from the Air Force saying that they were cutting back on pilots.”

So instead of a pilot, Franks became an air traffic controller for about three years. Then, he found his life changed by a man he has only met recently, former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn.

“When they cut all of those pilots, a lot of people complained. He (Nunn) was very convincing the Air Force to allow those people to go back to pilot training.”

Franks jumped at the chance to start pilot training, relocating to Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas in 1994. He graduated from Fort Rucker in 1995, having decided to specialize in helicopter flying.

“I wanted to be in special operations and I wanted to fly something that was hands-on all the time. You can’t get any more hands on than flying a helicopter.”

After Rucker, Franks mostly flew MH/HH-60Gs, spending about four years at Hurlbert Field in Florida.

Eventually, he went back to Laughlin, using what he had learned to teach brand new lieutenants how to fly.

“When I was an instructor pilot, it was a very rewarding job. It’s pretty cool to see someone come in with no flying experience whatsoever and six months later, they're graduating.”

From there, he spent some time at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama,

 then a couple of years stationed at the Special Operations Command Headquarters in Tampa and another two years at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

It was then that he had his first experience with the 23rd Wing, serving as Squad Commander at Nellis AFB for the 66th Rescue Squadron.

“I had always been in special operations, so that was my first rescue squadron...and my first time in the 23rd wing. What we did in special operations was it wasn’t that big of a shift.”

As Squad Commander, Franks deployed twice to Iraq.

“Ironically, we were in support of special operations the whole time we were there, so I saw a lot of familiar faces,” Franks chuckled. “That was probably the two most rewarding years of my career, being squad commander at Nellis. It was a pretty special time. We got everybody home and we did good work.”

Franks brought that experience with him when he was stationed at Moody AFB for the first time in 2010 as the 347 Rescue Group Commander.

While here, he and his family got to know the Valdosta community. When he got sent to Al Udeid in 2012 for a year-long deployment, he and his wife, Kim, decided to keep the family in Valdosta.

“I think that says a lot about the community relationship we have. My wife...loved Valdosta, had great friends here. The kids were in school and we were really happy.”

Of course, Franks didn’t know that he would be coming back to Moody as Commander of the 23rd Wing, but it’s something his family is happy about. His oldest son, Logan, recently graduated from Lowndes High School and his youngest, Tyler, is a sophomore at Valwood.

“The kids love it because they don’t have to keep moving...It was an easy transition because I’m familiar with Moody from my time here as a group commander. The previous wing commander, Col. Thompson, is a friend of mine, so that made it easy to transition.”

Commanders at Moody switch out every two years. It’s the Air Force’s way of ensuring that each base gets a regular influx of new ideas. Franks sums up his plan for the next two years in three words: Mission, Family and, perhaps surprisingly, Fun.

“I’m a little biased, but I think we’re the most relative wing in the AF. Since 9/11, we’ve had people from the 23rd wing in combat every single day.”

As you’re reading this, there are members of the 23rd wing flying into harms way, saving good guys and taking out bad guys. It’s a high-stress job with high demands, both on airmen and their families.

“We have to focus on the mission. In order to do that, we’ve got to make sure that we keep doing the ordinary things better than everybody else. If we do that, we'll maintain a high level of success.”

Franks also places a lot of importance on taking care of airmen and their families.

“If we’re not taking care of their families while they’re deployed, then they can’t focus on the mission...They shouldn’t be thinking about ‘are my kids being take care of? Is there something wrong with the house? Is my wife getting the support she needs?' It’s our job to make sure we’re doing that so that they can focus on the mission.”

Taking away the stress of airmen worrying about their family while they're deployed, feeds back in supporting the mission. Airmen with less worries and less distractions can focus more on doing the job at hand. Franks focus on fun serves a similar purpose.

“I think it's crucial...We ask a lot of our airmen and their families. Six month deployments on a regular basis and when they’re back home, we’re asking them to put up with long days. They deserve to have a little fun every now and then to make it worth while.”

A little fun like in a couple of weeks when Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band comes to Moody to play a show for the entire base and their families.

“We have to plan it out...we’re trying to hit those times when we have the most people here.”

Franks also has plans for base improvements, building new maintenance facilities and simulators for the recently acquired HC-130Js and a new Youth Programs building that will be completed at the end of this month,

With a new fiscal year set to start soon, rumors of additional military cuts have flown around, but it’s not something Franks concerns himself with.

“What I tell everybody is that that happens...we just stay focused on training. We can’t afford to focus on anything else...Our main job is the here and now, getting our training done, getting people ready to go down range and taking care of those families.”

It's been a long road from a college freshman on a commercial flight to Commander of the 23rd Wing, and it's a road that's still going. While Franks can see himself retiring one day, perhaps starting a second career as a high school football coach, for now, he's focused on his wing, on doing ordinary things a little better and on trying to work a little fun into his airmen's lives.

“I told my wife long ago, I’ll stay in the Air Force until I stop having fun...I’m still having fun. We have phenomenal airmen in the Air Force. That’s really why I’ve stayed. It wasn’t because of the flying, it was because of the people I got to work with.”