Lieutenant Colonel Rick
Air Force (Retired)
Col Francona enlisted in the Air Force in 1970, and served as a Vietnamese
linguist until 1973, conducting aerial reconnaissance missions over Vietnam
and Laos. After Arabic language training, he served at a variety
of locations in the Middle East from 1975 to 1977, and supported the evacuation
of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon in 1976. In 1978, he became
an Arabic language instructor at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey,
his commissioning in 1979, Lt Col Francona was an instructor at the Air
Force intelligence school in Denver, Colorado. From 1982 to 1984,
he was a Middle East operations officer with the National Security Agency. In 1984, he was assigned as an advisor to the Royal Jordanian Air Force
in Amman, Jordan.
1987, Lt Col Francona was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency as
the assistant Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East. During
this assignment, he spent much of 1987 and 1988 at the U.S. Embassy in
Baghdad, Iraq, as a liaison officer to the Iraqi armed forces directorate
of military intelligence. Lt Col Francona traveled extensively as an observer
of Iraqi combat operations against Iranian forces, and flew sorties with
the Iraqi air force.
General Schwarzkopf and
Rick, Saudi Arabia, 1991
following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990 and through the
Gulf War, Lt Col Francona was deployed to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf as the advisor on Iraqi
armed forces and personal interpreter to commander in chief of the U.S.
Central Command, General Norman Schwarzkopf. As such, he was the
lead interpreter for ceasefire talks with the Iraqi military at Safwan,
Iraq, in March, 1991.
the end of the Gulf War, the colonel served in the Office of the Secretary
of Defense, and was a principal author of the Department of Defense report
to Congress on the conduct of the Gulf war. In 1992, he was selected
to be the first air attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria. During this assignment, the colonel traveled extensively in Syria as an observer of Syrian air/air defense and military operations. He
returned to the United States in 1995.
Iraq - 1995
1995 to 1996, Lt Col Francona served with the Central Intelligence Agency,
and participated in a variety of sensitive operations in the Middle East,
including the extraction of an Iraqi scientist's family. (Watch a video account of that operation). During one of these operations, he survived an attempt on his life by Iraqi
intelligence service agents.
1996, the colonel was selected to develop the Department of Defense counterterrorism
intelligence branch. In late 1997, the colonel led a special operations
team supporting NATO forces in Bosnia - capturing five indicted war criminals. His book about that operation Chasing Demons: My Hunt for War Criminals in Bosnia was published in 2012.
Colonel Francona returned to the United
States and retired from active duty in 1998.
retiring from the Air Force, Lt Col Francona has written Ally to Adversary:
An Eyewitness Account of Iraq's Fall from Grace, and consulted with
government and private firms. From 2003 to 2008, he was a media analyst on
Middle East political-military events for NBC
News. In 2013, he became a military analyst for CNN.
CNN - 2012
colonel has a bachelors degree in government and the Arabic language,
a masters degree in international relations with a concentration in Middle
East studies, and postgraduate work at the University of Copenhagen. His decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service
Medal, the Bronze Star, and nine Air Medals, as well as campaign awards
for service in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and the Balkans. The colonel
was awarded the Central Intelligence Agency Seal Bronze Medallion for his service
with that agency. In 2006, Lt Col Francona was inducted into the
Defense Language Institute Hall of Fame.
Col Francona and his wife Emily reside on the Oregon coast.