AFRC general, Air Force Academy football standout, reflects on career
Brig. Gen. Christian Funk, a 1985 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, chats with Troy Calhoun, head coach of the Air Force Falcons football team.
Story and photo by Master Sgt. Chance Babin, Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs, April 1, 2019
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. — Brig. Gen. Christian Funk has come a long way since his days as a standout defensive end on the Air Force Academy football team in the early 1980s.
From fighter pilot to wing commander to his current assignment as the deputy director of strategy, concepts and assessments for the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, at the Pentagon, Funk has navigated a very successful Air Force career.
Whenever he has the opportunity, he likes to navigate his way back to his alma mater to show his support for the Academy football team and all of the Academy’s cadets.
Late in the 2018 football season, Funk was back on the field with his beloved Falcon football team. This night, he was the honorary captain during the coin toss at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where he would be honored for his time as a member of the AFA team and his Air Force career.
“It’s a great honor to represent the Air Force, Air Force Reserve Command and the U.S. Air Force Academy,” the general said. “It’s all I’ve ever known, being in the Air Force. It’s been my entire adult life and my family’s life. Seeing the Falcons play, especially having the privilege to be on the sidelines with the team, is always a humbling experience. Those kids were me and my teammates 35 years ago. It’s an ageless experience that was shared by many alumni on the sidelines Friday night at UNLV.”
The general watched the first half from the AFA sideline and it was obvious being close to his former team brought out his competitive juices. He even went behind the bench when the defense was being gashed early in the game, listening to the coaches and players discuss what took place on a UNLV touchdown drive.
“It’s still so nerve racking, watching the game, wishing I could do more than just cheer or worry,” he said. “I wanted to listen to the coach’s adjustments and the interaction with the players and how they responded.”
Although Funk’s military career has taken him all around the world, he still stays close to the academic institution and football team where it all started for him.
“The program develops world-class teams and individuals,” he said. “There is nothing like being an Academy intercollegiate athlete. We have all the demands of being a student and all the demands of competing at the Division 1 level – a full class schedule and a full athletic schedule, plus all the cadet activities.”
Being a student-athlete at the Air Force Academy helped shape the Air Force officer and leader Funk has become.
“I think the biggest thing is knowing you aren’t alone – you’re an important part of a big team. Someone is there to pick up your slack or I’m there to pick up someone else,” he said. “I learned I can’t do my job well unless everyone else did their job. That started with my instructors, helping me learn so I could stay on the team. My squadron mates getting through the inspections and drills. The equipment managers having our stuff ready to go. The coaches having everything organized and using every single second we had left in the day to watch film and get everything done in practice. My teammates getting their assignment done so we could make the tackle.”
Growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Funk attended Pine Forest High School, where he was coached by Gary Weller. He said he was recruited by the service academics and a few east coast teams to play football.
“Coach Weller’s life story is inspirational, and I’ve always kept in touch with him,” Funk said. “He was involved in a tragic accident in 2004 and has been in a wheelchair ever since. I had him come speak to the fighter wing at Homestead (Air Reserve Base, Florida). He always touches lives and has a foundation set up to give scholarships to high school student athletes in Fayetteville.”
Funk decided to attend the Air Force Academy, like his older brother. He became a four-year letterman and was the Western Athletic Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year his senior season in 1984. He also garnered AFA Male Athlete of the Year honors in 1985. He finished his career with 248 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, two caused fumbles and four blocked kicks.
Funk spent the 1985 season as a graduate assistant at the academy under Coach Fisher DeBerry. The Falcons had their greatest season ever that year. The team finished the season 12-1, losing only to Brigham Young University. Had they beat the Cougars, they would have most likely had the opportunity to play for a national championship. The Falcons ended the season ranked fifth in the nation after beating the University of Texas in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
After that season, Funk moved on and began his military career. But he has never lost contact with the football program.
“I have always stayed in touch with Coach DeBerry and now Coach (Troy) Calhoun,” he said. “Coach Calhoun is an ’89 grad, and he was on the freshman team when I was coaching as a graduate assistant. I always make sure I’m in contact with the Blue and Silver Club and the Bolt Brotherhood. I have season tickets, I donate. I help when I’m asked and I’m always available when anyone comes to my base or community.”
In addition to supporting the Academy, Funk is also an avid supporter of Air Force Reserve Command Recruiting Service.
“I’m a huge fan of recruiting,” he said. “Maybe it’s the football player and coach in me, but it’s exciting to talk to people and see their excitement about coming into the military. The questions and answers, the light bulb coming on, that look on their face of realizing their possible future and the opportunities they get. Recruiting is just making sure we get the right people to take our place and make sure we can sleep at night and that our grandkids can grow up with all the freedoms we have and for which we have worked so hard. It’s our duty to bring in the best people we know can cut it in this very difficult time for our country.”
While he was the installation commander at Homestead, Funk was honored by AFRC Recruiting Service as the Wing Commander of the Year, given to the commander who does the most to support recruiting efforts.
“The only thing I did was try to be part of the recruiting team. I listened to their great ideas and tried to help them as much as I could with their vision,” he said. “I was the wing and installation commander, but they were the experts. The little things mattered – making sure training was available, funds were available and support was available. Simple things like trying to get the recruiting flight nested in the Force Support Squadron so the recruit didn’t have to move all over the wing to get in-processed. Making sure the training and indoctrination flight had a place to meet and train.”
While Funk has supported recruiting efforts as a commander, he has also done some recruiting at home. Using the Get One Now peer referral program, the general referred his son, Hugh, to join the Reserve. The peer referral program allows Reservists and civilian employees to refer a family member or friend to join the Reserve. Once a referral is deemed a qualified lead, the person submitting the lead is eligible for a host of awards. The general had the honor of presiding at his son’s enlistment.
“It was the first time I’ve ever had to read the oath from a piece of paper,” he said. “I started, ‘I, state your name’ and I looked up at him to repeat it and I lost it. Very embarrassing! But it was a great honor to swear my son in at Homestead.”
Now Senior Airman Funk is part of the USAFA jump team, Wings of Blue, assigned to the 70th Flying Training Squadron in Colorado Springs. He’s an instructor and evaluator in many skydiving disciplines.
“We are a typical Air Force father and son,” the general said. “He was 3 when I did my first deployment and 23 when I got home from my last deployment. My wife, Lori, kept the home together mostly. She and I are both Army brats who were raised with fathers in Vietnam for several tours, so she knows her way around a father and husband being gone.”
One thing the general, his father and his son have in common is the love of skydiving. The general’s father flew the Army’s Golden Knights as a UH-1 pilot and was a jumper as well. Now, the general and his son continue the family tradition.
“I started jumping in 1986 and we started jumping together in 2004 at Fort Bragg when he just turned 17,” the general said. “We’ve been jumping together as much as we can since. He’s made more than 8,500 jumps now to my 360. He is a tandem instructor/evaluator and an Air Force firefighter. I’m incredibly proud of serving with him.”
Funk said one of his mentors, retired Army Sergeant Major Alcee Richardson, a former Golden Knight, later became a mentor to his son.
“He always imparted his experience and wisdom to Hugh and is a big part of his life,” Funk said. “It was heartwarming to see a guy who influenced my life also influencing my son’s life. Alcee, my dad and I were on the drop zone for Hugh’s first jump and they pinned his first set of jump wings on him. It was a very proud moment.
“That trip we made back to Fort Bragg to get his civilian rating is one of the most memorable trips of our lifetime. It was the summer my dad turned 70 and we were exhausted every day. Great memories.”
As the general reflected back on his career, he realized he’s been very blessed.
“I was fortunate enough to get the aircraft I love – the F-16 – and even fly a second fighter I always wanted to fly – the A-10 – for a couple years,” Funk said. “With more than 4,000 flying hours – including test pilot, instructor and evaluator, a ton of deployments, a special operations tour as a fire support officer, and a group deputy commander, it’s been an incredible operational career.”
He said having a strong family support system has been critical to his success.
“Lori and I have been together from high school through the Academy and then into married life right after I graduated,” he said. “We’ve shared memories and made great friends. There is only an ‘us,’ because we’ve been together since we were teenagers. She’s held down the fort, raised our children and done all the things military spouses have done throughout history. We’ve moved more than 15 times and separated over as many deployments. She’s run things by herself many years and had seven Christmases without me in the house. I certainly couldn’t have done this without her.”
For more information on the Get1Now peer referral program, go to https://www/get1now.us/ or download the app.