Franks also focuses on educating the male cadets in class, feeling it’s beneficial for them to understand comradery with teammates regardless of gender.
“Because the percentage of females is still fairly low in the military, I want the male cadets to understand the teamwork concept with their fellow female cadets,” said Franks “It’s important that they also look to help them grow as Airmen and understand we’re on the same side.”
Even though Franks said she takes extreme pride in the experiences she’s had pioneering new feats as the ‘first female to,’ she thinks it is important that women in the military move toward overall mission equality.
“With the growth we’re seeing of females joining the military, especially in command and leadership roles, we’re starting to see the last of the ‘firsts,’ which is important,” said Franks. “I’ve had a few of those throughout my career and I’ll always be so proud of those experiences. It’s also important to move past that and focus on the mission.”
During her brief, Franks pulled up a slide and asked if anyone in the crowd recognized the individual pictured beside her. Football recruit cadet candidate Arden Jenkins raised his hand and informed everyone that it was his mom, Lt. Col., retired, Naviere Walkewicz and 2019's Ms. Veteran America. Walkewicz spent 23 years in the Air Force before retiring, seven as active duty and 16 in the AF Reserve.
"Col. Franks and I were roommates at the Academy," said Walkewicz during an interview. "DeAnna, as I knew her, was destined for all the things she has proven true, with the sky being the limit for this Air Force leader! I remember her being such a strong academic, military and athletic superstar, and I looked up to her."
The two experienced many adventures together, according to Walkewicz, including surviving basic training, academic challenges and having to cut their hair short.
"There was a moment when DeAnna and I were together, standing in front of our mirror in our newly allowed civilian clothing," said Walkewicz. "We were pinning our hair back in it's awful grow-out stage with bobby pins and I remember thinking - we're going to make it here."
Walkewicz said she faced a number of challenges throughout her career, but she saw them as opportunities. Specifically, she remembers there being a lack of female representation in the transportation and logistics career fields where she served.
"Noticeably less female officer leaders and role models to learn from and, in general, less consideration for some of our basic needs like nursing stations for new mothers," said Walkewicz. "I have absolutely seen changes since then and like to believe that my peers and I are part of that transformation and will continue to support ongoing efforts of recruiting more incredible female leaders."
Now serving in the Association of Graduates at the Academy, Walkewicz gets to see Franks from time-to-time, especially in her mentorship role.
"I think she's always been gifted in this way - seen as someone who's perspective you immediately valued," said Walkewicz. "DeAnna mentored her peers, me included, to be our best. And now, I've seen her mentoring young men and women who will soon take their journey at the Academy."
Left: Col. DeAnna Franks, 302nd Operations Group commander, poses with her mentee, Brianna "Bella" Borris, Class of '27, U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School, in front of a C-130 belonging to the 302nd Airlift Wing at the Colorado Springs Pikes Peak Regional Airshow, September, 2022. (Courtesy Photo)
Right: Col. DeAnna Franks, 302nd Operations Group commander, stands beside Brianna "Bella" Norris, Class of '27, at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Preparatory School, August, 2022. (Courtesy Photo)
As Franks moves toward more mentorship opportunities in the future, she shared a few closing words of advice.
“When in your current job or role in the Air Force, work to be the best technical expert in your field and then allow yourself capability to grow in leadership and professional development by being open and available to learn from other Airmen in their specific fields,” said Franks. “Our Air Force provides so many incredible opportunities, it's a matter of seeking out those desires and then being willing to explore, experiment and, ultimately, broaden your own Air Force career. The sky is the limit!”