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Growing up in military family taught this volunteer valuable lessons

Julie Smith/JBLM PAO JBLM November volunteer of the month Cristal Francis (center), 4-23 Inf. FRG leader, works with her points of contact, Nichole Campbell (left) and Katie Marquis (right) to make homecoming signs for the unit's return.

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Military life is nothing new to Cristal Francis. She was born in a military hospital in Panama, Central America, and as the daughter of an Army retiree, she joined ROTC in high school and felt she was being groomed for a life of military service.

But after graduation, her mother got sick, so she postponed her enlistment. Her plans changed further when a handsome man with a goatee walked into the retail store where she was working.

Talking to the man, Francis realized he was in the Army and was surprised to learn he belonged to the same unit her dad had served with. Growing a goatee was a measure he took to play the part of a Taliban insurgent for training purposes.

She further learned he was a German citizen and was also caring for his ill mother, who lived with him. He made the choice to join the U.S. military over the German Army because he could get better medical care for his mother as a member of the U.S. military.

Eleven days later they were married.

Almost five years later, she is being recognized for her service to the military in a different capacity, as Joint Base Lewis-McChord's November volunteer of the month for her work as the family readiness group leader for 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment - one of the "Tomahawk" Stryker battalions.

Growing up in a military family, Francis said she got used to her father's absences because of work, but she admits separations from her husband, Staff Sgt. David Francis, are much tougher.

"It's different because when it's my husband, there is a constant reminder there that you're the only one in bed when you wake up in the morning," Francis said.

Francis took note of how her mother managed the home during her father's military service, experience that serves her well as the FRG leader for the approximately 150 Families with whom she is in regular contact.

Francis is quick to applaud the help of her contact personnel within the FRG, other spouses who help her push information out to Families.

"Without hesitation, I can tell you that our FRG is amazing," Francis said. "It's not all me. Alpha Co. has an amazing group of women who are willing to volunteer and give whatever they can."

Captain Shelby Williams, 4-23 Inf. rear detachment commander, calls Francis an important asset to the FRG.

"I couldn't do half of my job if I didn't have a strong FRG leader like Cristal," Williams said.

The battalion has been in Afghanistan since April 2012. The loss of four Soldiers has made the deployment a tough one for the unit.

"There have been a lot of hard missions. The Soldiers are very resilient, but when you lose a friend, a coworker, a brother, you need some time to deal with that," Francis said. "But unfortunately, you have to get over it quick because you have another mission coming up."

The Tomahawks are scheduled to return in January 2013 and Francis can sense the excitement from Families. They recently gathered to paint banners for the unit's homecoming.

As a mom to 3-year-old Christian and a part-time student studying radiology, Francis is thankful for her husband and committed to her role in the FRG.

"I do all of this for him. I couldn't see myself doing anything else," Francis said. "It's nice to know I'm helping in any way I can."

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