Lt Col Rick Francona enlisted in the Air Force in 1970, and served as a Vietnamese linguist until 1973, conducting 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, California.
Following 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.
In 1987, he 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.
Immediately following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990 and through the Gulf War, Lt Col Francona was deployed to 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.
At the end of the Gulf War, he 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. From 1995 to 1996, Lt Col Francona served with the Central Intelligence Agency, and participated in a variety of sensitive operations in the Middle East. During one of these operations, he survived an attempt on his life by Iraqi intelligence service agents.
Lt. Col. Francona has a bachelors degree in government and the Arabic language, and a masters degree in international relations with a concentration in Middle East studies.