William "Billy" Francis - USAF - Tallahassee, FL
Education and Training:
- Florida State University: Bachelor of Science in Economics, 1986
- Squadron Officer School, 1992
- Eastern New Mexico University: Master of Business Administration, 1997
- Air University: Master of Aerospace Strategy, 1999
- National War College: Master of National Security Strategy, 2005
- United States Air Force, 1986 – 2012
- Command Pilot – 2,800+ hours
- Mission Support Group Commander at MacDill Air Force Base
- AFROTC Detachment 145 Commander
- Florida State University, 2009 – Present
- Chairman/Professor in the Department of Aerospace Studies
- Director of the Student Veterans Center
FSU’s Student Veterans Center
- Colonel Francis was selected to lead the creation of the Florida State University’s Student Veterans Center on November 11, 2011 and has since served as its first director. He established the center with the vision to become a national beacon of veteran support and success is the guiding principle of the Veterans Alliance, which encompasses Florida State University initiatives that ease the transition from military service to campus life, foster a community of past, present and future veterans, raise awareness of veteran issues among campus and local communities, and support student veterans through graduation and into rewarding careers and graduate education programs. In the past 10 years, the Student Veterans Center has become a premier institute which has prioritized, supported, and guided student veterans, reservist, national guardsman, and ROTC cadets. It has served as an example for universities across the State of Florida and the United States on student veterans’ success and integration.
- Colonel Francis has stated, “Our goal at the Student Veterans Center is to get to know student-veterans and initiate, cultivate and sustain relationships that create a sense of home, so they can develop a post-service sense of purpose and vision for their future. We want to be a national beacon of veteran support and success. We want to empower veterans. The best way to empower student-veterans is to provide the resources that help them graduate and find rewarding careers or postgraduate opportunities.”
Coin and Cord Ceremony
- Upon graduation, all veterans, national guardsmen and women, and ROTC cadets are awarded with a red, white, and blue honor cord and a customized FSU military challenge coin. The ceremony occurs as the University President’s House where everyone is granted a one-on-one opportunity with Colonel Francis and the University President. Colonel Francis has stated that he “wanted to offer this special recognition to show the university’s respect and gratitude for our student veterans’ service to our country and for the future service of our ROTC graduates…the cord is important because it is worn by someone who wrote a check payable in an amount up to and including their life to the people of the United States of America. It is a salute to this most honorable commitment.” https://www.tallahasseemagazine.com/aiming-to-serve-those-who-served/
College of Nursing Veteran Degree
- Colonel Francis worked with the College of Nursing to create a veteran specific degree for veterans with military medical experience.
- Colonel Francis worked with the University Wellness Center to secure TRICARE insurance for dependents of student veterans.
Fallen Heroes Ceremony
- The Fallen Heroes Ceremony was created on November 11, 2019, with the overall support of Colonel Francis. Over 6,900 American flags were placed on Mino Jo Powell Alumni Green representing every service member killed in action since the War on Terror was declared. Each flag had attached a card with the servicemember’s name, service branch, rank, KIA date, hometown, and picture. A ceremony is now traditionally held in November, bringing together over 200 hundred attendees to pay honor and respect to the fallen.
Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame Scholarship
- The Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame donated $6000 to provide emergency financial support to student veterans FSU. Colonel Francis worked directly with the Hall of Fame to establish the scholarship which allowed 6 seniors to graduate with prestige, and without financial worry. https://foundation.fsu.edu/our-impact/florida-veterans%E2%80%99-hall-fame- society-establishes-new-scholarship-student-veterans
FSU Student Veterans of America
- In 2013, the Veterans Student Union (VSU) was created as an official agency of the FSU Student Government Association. Colonel Francis worked with the Student Body President, Student Senators, and student veterans to institutionalize this veteran organization within student leadership. Since Colonel Francis was also serving as an advisor for the student run: Collegiate Veterans Association (CVA), in 2020 he created and oversaw the establishment of the FSU Student Veterans of America: which directly connected the VSU and CVA, to be a unified veteran organization.
- Colonel Francis advocated to ensure the gap funding from the Florida Legislature would be utilized to support student veterans. FSU is yearly allocated $50,000 to support 50 student veterans in financial need.
Instate Tuition for all Veterans
- Under the direction and strategic leadership of Colonel Francis, FSU student veterans organized and lobbied the Florida Legislature to grant instate tuition for military veterans. This was passed then taken to the US Congress where it become federal law. With this, Colonel Francis not only influenced veterans at FSU, but thousands across the nation.
Military Appreciation Games
- Colonel Francis led the effort and served as a coordinator for Military Appreciation Varsity Games. This showed appreciation for student veterans, while connecting them to the FSU family as a whole.
- Under the direction of Colonel Francis, the Florida Legislature yearly allocates $500,000 to the Student Veterans Centers to ensure satisfaction of operational costs.
Operation Family Caregiver
- Due to Colonel Francis’ success, the Rosalyn Carter Institute chose FSU’s SVC to run the nation’s only campus-based Operation Family Caregiver program. The program rose to become the third largest in the nation.
Purple Heart University
- Due to the work of Colonel Francis’ work and leadership, FSU was designated as a Purple Heart University in August of 2019 by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. https://www.freep.com/story/news/2019/08/25/fsu-accepts-designation-purple-heart-university/2114374001/
Relationship with the FSU Fraternity and Sorority Life
- Continuing in expanding from just the military community, Colonel Francis has engaged with the Fraternity and Sorority life at FSU. In doing so, he has built a bridge between the two communities to offer a strong network, support, and friendship. In doing so, multiple Greek organizations decided to make the Student Veterans Center this philanthropic beneficiary on numerous accounts. Most recently, FSU’s LineDance: Showcase of the Arts raised $130,000. The SVC was one of their three beneficiaries.
- Since his time as the Air Force ROTC commander, Colonel Francis has committed time, support, and mentorship for the future officers of the US Air Force. This includes serving as a guest speaker, having one-on-one conversations with cadets, or assisting in the completion of ROTC objectives. Colonel Francis continues to serve as the ideal role model for cadets.
Scott Speicher Memorial
- Scott Speicher was a US Navy pilot and FSU graduate, missing-in-action for 18 years until his remains were found in August of 2009. Colonel Francis worked with the Speicher family and FSU athletics to establish his memorial on campus.
Student Attendance to Student Veterans of America National Conference
- Since becoming SVC Director, Colonel Francis has made unbreakable bonds with veterans and student leaders alike. With that, he organized and supported over 200 FSU student attendees to the Student Veterans of American National Conference. At the conference, student veterans and leaders were able to find ways to develop their SVA chapters, engage with more veterans on campus, explore new job opportunities, fundraise for veteran interests, and much more. Furthermore, he ensured the majority of FSU Student Body President’s attended – the only university to do so – which created a strong relationship and prioritized the veteran community.
Student Veterans Ball
- In 2013, the Student Veteran’s Ball was created. The ball is centered around military tradition: mess dress, a color guard, service hymns, and much more. The ball allows for student veterans to network and be recognized for their accomplishments while non-military students can visual military customs and culture. Since its creation, it has become a highly admired tradition. Attendance has become one of the most sought-after items by most student at FSU. Additionally, the Guidon award was established to honor students, faculty, staff, and community members who aid in the mission of the Student Veterans Center.
Student Veterans Development Council
- The Veterans Development Council was created to work with the FSU Foundation in fundraising efforts supporting all veteran, active duty, Guard, Reserve and dependent programs and facilities. This council created the Student Veterans Endowment Fund which is highlighted during FSU’s GreatGive. These fundraising efforts have raised over $5 million, which allowed for scholarship, programming, and education to holistically support and empower FSU student veterans.
Student Veteran Law Symposium
- When supporting the creation of the Student Veteran’s Law Symposium, Colonel Francis’ goal was to create a great networking opportunity for students who have served, wish to serve, or have a passion for veterans’ legal issues. The mission is to assist student veterans with their transition into higher education, support efforts to end veteran homelessness in Tallahassee, and advocate for veterans’ rights in the legislature and the courtroom.
Troops to Teachers
- In 2013, Troops to Teachers was a program supported by Colonel Francis and the FSU College of Education to assist veterans in their transition from the military, into college, and then into careers in the classrooms. Colonel Francis described the program by stating that “Attracting veteran leaders, graduating them and watching them take the lead as teachers in Florida’s classrooms is beneficial to students, to veterans, and to the State. We look forward to becoming the premier producer of veteran teachers in the State in cooperation with the Troops to Teachers program.” https://www.wtxl.com/news/new-fsu-program-helps-veterans-transition-to-teachers/article_ce86ee74-f92d-11e2-8bcf-001a4bcf6878.html
Veterans Alumni Society
- The Veterans Alumni Society was created to engage student veterans upon their graduation from FSU. This organization is directly aligned to the FSU Alumni Association and serves as a networking channel for events, traditions, and support functions for student veterans.
Veteran’s Film Festival
- Created in 2011, Colonel Francis has led the Veteran’s Film Festival. This festival showcases fictional and nonfictional films that explain the realities of a servicemembers life – either as active duty or as a veteran. Each year a new film is produced with support from FSU’s College of Motion Picture Arts. Many of these films were nominated for awards, including Academy Awards. Colonel Francis has continuously updated the event to increase community engagement and student attendance, from both civilians and veterans. These films include: Hell and Back Again, The Invisible War, Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The life and Time of Tim Hetherington, Last Days in Vietnam, The Hornet’s Nest, Citizen Soldier, Apache Warrior, Memphis Belle, and Above the Best.
Veterans Legacy Complex
- Under his influence and strategic leadership, he designed Veterans Legacy Complex (VLC). The vision for this complex is to be a one of a kind facility for empowering the military community at FSU. The complex would house the Student Veterans Center, the Student Veterans of America, Air Force ROTC, and Army ROTC. Colonel Francis has engaged with private and state fundraising to make this project a reality.
Veteran Liaison in the Florida State Departments
- Initiated by Colonel Francis, FSU student veterans advocated for the establishment of liaisons within the state government departments. Since approval, the State of Florida has been able to increase connection, engagement, and support for veterans throughout the state.
World War II Commemoration Project
- Since 2018, Colonel Francis served as the lead influencer and middleman between FSU and Dale Mabry Army Air Museum. Building 264, which is on FSU’s campus, once served as a housing complex for pilots assigned to Dale Mabry Army Air Field. Due to his leadership, Colonel Francis orchestrated a Memorandum of Understanding to allow the museum to take possession of this historic residential structure. This enabled the military and Tallahassee community to protect and commemorate our history.
- The FSU Veterans Liaison program was created by Colonel Francis to create a strong network to provide any student veteran a “go to person” in that Department. Colonel Francis has said “FSU has set up more than 60 liaisons across campus who help with the retention of our student- veterans. We have so many resources as part of the FSU family. Our student veterans can get immediate assistance with spiritual, mental, physical, relational and academic demands.”
Veterans Alliance Arrowhead
- Colonel Francis envisioned the FSU Veteran’s Alliance Arrowhead (VAA) and collaborated with the SVC staff to create one of the most iconic university veteran support brands in the nation. The VAA serves as the proud symbol of the university wide commitment to be a national beacon of veteran support and success. The Garnet and Gold store is the exclusive retailed of the VAA and gives a majority of the net proceeds to the SVC.
Veterans Specialty Clinic
Before this clinic was created veterans had to travel to Gainesville or Pensacola to address these issues.
Over the past 10 years, Colonel Francis has mentored and advised the following university alumni centers:
- Clemson University
- East Carolina University
- Florida Gulf Coast University
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Georgia Southern
- Gulf Coast State College
- Indiana Tech
- Iowa State University
- Jacksonville University
- Louisiana State University
- Mississippi State University
- Ohio State University
- Penn State University
- Tallahassee Community College
- Texas Lutheran University
- Texas State University
- Tulsa Community College
- University of Albany
- University of Washington
- Iowa State University
- University of Kentucky
- Auburn University
- Colonel Francis’ leadership has greatly affected the Florida State University veteran community. The following rankings by the U.S. News & World Report has been influenced due to his work:
• #30 overall
• #35 public
• #2 overall
• #1 public
82% The FSU non-veteran student graduation rate is 74% which is ranked #1 in Florida State University System. The veteran graduation rate has raised as much as 20% since Colonel Francis took command.
• Tallahassee Rotary Club, Paul Harris Fellow
- In 2018, Colonel Francis was awarded with FSU’s highest honor: Circle of Gold: The FSU Alumni Association’s Circle of Gold recognizes worthy individuals who, through their service and achievements, personify the university’s tradition of excellence. It is given to those alumni and/or friends of FSU who, through their dedication and loyalty to the University, exemplifies the Alumni Association’s core values of Tradition, Leadership, Family, Spirit and Greatness.
Colonel William “Billy” Francis has dedicated his entire life to serving others. He fearlessly served his country as a commander, fighter pilot, husband, and father. His career took him all over the country and the world where he impacted the lives of many. For most, 26 years of military service is more than enough work, but Billy is unlike most. His service did not stop after his retirement. The only thing that changed was his mission.
During his military service, his mission was to serve his brothers and sisters in arms, members of developing nations, and those in need of help by the United States Air Force. However, he found a new mission – to serve those who have also served this country. Billy does this every day at Florida State University. Colonel Francis stood up the Student Veterans Center (SVC) as its first, and only director since its inception in November of 2011. Since its creation, the FSU Student Veterans Center has become a national example of how to empower student veterans.
This nomination packet serves as a commendable achievement report due to Billy’s leadership. However, what is not expressed, is his character. Bottom line – Billy is an influencer. Whether it is a motivational speech during a PT session, a tear-jerking speech during a ceremony, or his delivery of unique life advice, student, for the past 10 years, have been positively influenced by Billy Francis. He is known as the “great orator” or the “go-to guy” on campus. Beyond that, his actions show the underlying truth: he deeply cares to empower and watch student veterans succeed.
The Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame is said “to recognize and honor those military veterans who, through their works and lives during or after military service, have made a significant contribution to the State of Florida.” It is without doubt, Colonel Billy Francis has made, and continues to make, significant contributions for student, veterans and civilians alike, at Florida State University and beyond. Without Billy’s exceptional leadership and character, thousands of students, Florida State University, and the great State of Florida would not be the same.