Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Howie Franklin speaks at South Georgia Technical College Griffin Bell Convocation

Published 7:27 pm Wednesday, April 12, 2023

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From Staff Reports


AMERICUS – Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Howie Franklin shared a secret of success with a standing room only capacity crowd of students, faculty, staff and community members at the South Georgia Technical College Griffin B. Bell Convocation recently in the John M. Pope Industrial Technology Center on the SGTC campus in Americus, GA.  The convocation was held in honor of the college’s 75th anniversary.

“This is a special year as South Georgia Technical College is celebrating our 75th year of providing the finest in quality instruction for occupational training,” said SGTC President Dr. John Watford.  “Established in 1948 as the South Georgia Trade and Vocational School, SGTC has evolved into a cutting-edge technical college providing two-year degrees, diplomas, and certificates with state-of-the-art equipment and a highly knowledgeable faculty and staff.  SGTC maintains the elite culture of a strong work-ethic and quality training upon which this school was founded.  We embrace terms like vocation, occupation, and skills.  It is my sincere belief that Judge Griffin Bell recognized that part of SGTC’s culture in his profound support of this college.”

Howie Franklin was invited to speak at the convocation in honor of the 75th anniversary.  Members of Judge Bell’s family and SGTC Foundation trustees attended the event.  The SGTC Aviation students and faculty served as hosts for the convocation.  Aviation maintenance was one of the original programs offered in 1948 and has been a strong academic program celebrating success since 1948.

Retired Chief Master Sergeant Franklin made history for being the first flight attendant to serve five U.S. Presidents aboard Air Force One.  He shared his secret of success for remaining employed through both Democratic and Republican Presidents and gave the audience a glimpse at some of the individuals who flew aboard Air Force One and the history he had witnessed. His tenure aboard Air Force One included service to Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton.

“Here is the secret,” said Franklin.  “You find out what they want you to do and you do it.  And you do it with a great attitude.”  Franklin’s advice was still timely to SGTC students who are working or will enter the workforce in the next few months.  He added that, attitude and quality service are still important no matter what occupational field they choose.

Franklin retired after 29 years in the United States Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant.  He spent 24 years at Andrews Air Force Base Special Missions Operations and 18 years on Air Force One.  He became the first flight attendant in history to serve five U.S. President’s aboard Air Force One.

He is currently the airport director of Cape Fear Regional Jetport in southeastern North Carolina.  The airport authority board honored Howie’s service by adding Howie Franklin Field to the official airport name.

Franklin and Mark Grady wrote a book, “Yes Sir! Mr. President” sharing some of the over 300

stories of his memories of working around Presidents, First Ladies, Vice Presidents, Cabinet Secretaries, VIP guests and U.S. press corps.

“Aviation maintenance is a critical field. Our nation is moving more stuff on airplanes that ever before.  We need you,” said Franklin when he spoke to the SGTC Aviation Maintenance students and faculty.  He also added that all of the skills that students are learning at South Georgia Technical College are vital to the success of our nation.  “My training in culinary arts was very valuable to my success aboard Air Force One.  Learn everything that you can, never stop learning,” he added.  “And then do it with a great attitude.  You will be successful.”

Franklin shared photos of some of the individuals who traveled on Air Force One and gave highlights of trips and destinations they traveled to.  He talked about the logistics of providing and caring for the individuals aboard Air Force One, including national media.  He opened a window, helping the audience learn about the person behind the presidency.

The Griffin B. Bell convocation was made possible by a donation from the late U.S. Attorney General Judge Griffin Bell who was born in Sumter County, in an effort to bring outstanding individuals with expertise in business, science, or technology to the SGTC campus to encourage and inspire young people.

Griffin B. Bell, III, Attorney and grandson of former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell, shared insights about his grandfather prior to Howie Franklin’s talk. He shared a few of his grandfather’s observations on life that he has posted on his refrigerator to remind him and his family about the things that are really important.

“Keep in shape, mind and body.  Work hard.  Read widely, including the news in-depth.  Focus.  Have an attitude of trust in others.  Be an optimist.  Things will always get better.  Bad times will pass. Most problems solve themselves.  Those who knew my granddad will recognize his phrasing,” said Bell.

“The one observation I want to talk about today is focus.  In technical education especially, focus is so important.  And it is harder and harder in society to focus today because we have these computers or phones in our hands that can access information instantly.  We are driven to distraction.  We feel we have to be entertained or texting somebody.  The world will fall apart if we are not sending an email or text.  That concept of focus serves us well.  Being where you are at the moment, focusing on what should I be doing and how can I do it right at this moment, is important” said Bell.

“This place, Sumter County, and Sumter County’s people meant so much to my granddad.  This is where he was truly happy.  The work ethic and the way you thrive.  This community meant so much to him and he would be so proud to be remembered here,” said Bell in closing.

“South Georgia Tech is very privileged to have been recognized by Judge Griffin Bell in many ways, not the least of which, making this convocation program possible through his generosity.  Our Aviation Maintenance Building, located behind the building where we are  now, is named the Griffin B. Bell Aerospace Technology Center in his honor.  Across the hall, the recently renovated Griffin B. Bell Lecture Room was named in his honor.  His footprints and legacy are all over this campus touching live daily.”

Other speakers at the Griffin B. Bell Convocation have included:  Eric Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh who soloed over the grounds of South Georgia Technical College; Charles Loudermilk, founder of Aaron’s Rents; Tom Young, retired Lockheed Martin and NASA executive; Dan Amos, AFLAC; Thomas A. Gales of Caterpillar, Inc.; Cliff Oxford, STI Knowledge; James Blanchard, Chief Executive Officer of Synovus; Virgil Williams, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Williams Group International, Inc, a diversified multi-company a conglomerate with major subsidiaries in construction maintenance, civil and environmental engineering;  A. James Clark of Clark Enterprises, Inc., one of the largest privately held companies in the United States;  George and Jackie Bryce of Star Racing in Americus; William Eames from Ireland who trained over the grounds of South Georgia Technical College as a young member of the Royal Air Force during World War II; Bruce Goddard, a best-selling author from Reynolds, Georgia and 1979 SGTC Aviation Maintenance graduate Dan Linginfelter, Senior airworthiness Inspector for Gulfstream Aerospace and retired Atlanta Station Manager, International for Delta Airlines.