'Airman of the Year' blazing her own trail: Along the Way

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Sometimes when we hear about somebody earning an honor, we have preconceived notions about what to expect.
For example, the South Dakota Air National Guard recently named their 2018 Airman of the year.
And if you think you know what the winner is *like*, you'll *likely* be surprised.

as we go "Along the Way", to introduce you to this year's winner, who has deep roots right here in Rapid City.

22 year old Katie French is the South Dakota Air National Guard's 2018 Airman of the year.
She's also a student at South Dakota State.
Over the holidays she was back at her family's home here in Rapid City.
For the Air Guard, Katie, is an F-16 Crew Chief with the 114th Fighter Wing in Sioux Falls.

Airman of the Year Katie French says, "So a Crew Chief, our main responsibility is we are in charge of making sure all the maintenance is done on the jet. So we work with the different back shops and make sure that the bird is ready to fly at a moment's notice. We are the one's out there with the pilot, launching the jets off, recovering them, and just really making sure that our jet is ready to go when it needs to go."

According to the 114th Fighter Wing, they have over a thousand members, but only 22 percent are female. Katie is one of that 22 percent.
She's a hands on mechanic working with a mighty strong bird.

Katie French says, "So the F-16 is a fighter jet, so it's the one up there dog fighting other jets and dropping bombs and shooting missiles and taking names I guess.

Katie may not fit the stereotypical image of a tough nose rough and tumble fighter jet crew chief.
But there is no doubt, she is a leader.
Graduating from Rapid City Central in 2014.
Her achievements too long to list: here's the highlights.
Katie was Homecoming Queen.

Katie says, "I was captain of my dance team Junior and Senior year."

And she was either President or Co-President of Student Council for her class all 4 years.
She's the 6th of 9 kids of Kent and Jean French crediting her family as one key to her success.

Rapid City's Katie French says, "People are always asking that, like, how did you grow up with that many siblings? And you know sometimes they drive you nuts, you get in arguments, just like any other family. But I just count each sibling as a, each parent as a bigger support system."

So why did Katie choose to be an F-16 crew chief? While she may not look tough, she has a mentality that is tough as rocks.

"A motto I like to live by is if it doesn't challenge you, it'll never change you. So on my ASVAB score, mechanics was by far the lowest one out of all of it, so I knew that's where I needed to improve myself," Katie French.

Now, she's Senior Airman Katie French: Airman of the Year. Another one of the keys to her success is her faith.

Rapid City's Katie French says, "I know especially in basic there are some nights where you just cry yourself to sleep but I just turned to God and was like anything that life gives me I knew I could do with God."

Growing up Catholic, going to church, and praying before meals, and bedtime.
And while she works with fighter jets, she's still a dancer at SDSU, and this past Spring says they competed at Nationals, the National Dance Association Competition in Daytona Beach Florida, which brings us back to her motivation.

Katie French says, "Besides just wanting to make God proud, and my family proud, I was actually supposed to be a twin. But in the womb, my Mom lost her in the 2nd trimester and they actually didn't think I was gonna make it and so falling back on my faith, I feel like I'm here for a reason, like I feel like, I'm like living for my twin and myself."

So there it is, she's living for two. Her list of achievements already so long. Dance team captain. Homecoming Queen. Student Council President. F-16 Crew Chief. Airman of the year. It would be a safe guess to say, her twin, would be very proud.

Katie volunteers in a number of different ways.
She says her biggest dream is to become a mother herself.
And while she's not sure yet, she says she may stay in the Air Guard for a full 20 year career.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way", please call us, or e-mail me at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let us know.