97 CES ‘Dirt Boyz’ remember fallen wingman

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Uhing
  • 97th Civil Engineer Squadron Pavement and Equipment Flight

On April 4, 2022, the Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, community tragically lost Airman First Class Keith A. Francis, a 97th Civil Engineer Squadron Pavement and Equipment Flight apprentice, when he was involved in a vehicle accident while traveling to Vernon, Texas.

I am Staff Sgt. Ryan Uhing, the 97th CES Pavements and Equipment Flight non-commissioned officer in charge, and he was my first troop.

When I became a supervisor, it was clear that he was full of drive and determination. He was constantly smiling and always emitted a positive energy that he spread throughout the section.

In May 2022, a month after the accident, the 97th CES Environmental Flight donated a Texas Red Bud tree and offered to help plant the tree in front our shop dedicating that spot to Francis. Our flight, also known as the "Dirt Boyz", along with the environmental flight, used Francis' favorite piece of equipment, the excavator, to dig the hole and plant the tree.

While Francis is no longer with us, this tree is seen by each member of our shop on a daily basis and gives us the opportunity to pay our respects and remember him. We look forward to watching this tree grow and prosper just as we all wanted to see Francis do. We are thankful to have been able to dedicate something so meaningful to our fallen friend.

In the future, while the tree continues to grow, we hope to be able to place some additional benches and a dedication plaque that will continue to tell Francis' story.