Every advanced individual training class at Fort Lee has at least one student who stands out from the others because of age, ability, background or cultural characteristic. A prime example of this is Airman 1st Class Florian Delsert who graduated June 24 from the 345th Training Squadron’s Air Transportation Apprentice Course.

“It was his foreign accent and the fact he (formerly served as) a French Air Force officer,” pointed out Airman Isaac T. Baxter, a classmate. “That made him quite fascinating to the whole class.”

The story of how and why the 31-year-old former second lieutenant in the French Air Force started over as an enlisted Airman is unique, which makes it interesting, but also inspiring because it exemplifies the diversity of the U.S. Armed Forces and how those who serve have made a difference as a result of their sacrifice.

“I met my American wife at a school program in Belgium,” Delsert said in explanation of what eventually brought him to the U.S. “The plan at first was that she would move with me to France, but … I always wanted to, at some point, leave … and go to the United States to join the U. S. Air Force. I didn’t really know how, I just knew I wanted to do it.”

Delsert grew up in Lillers, an urban area in northern France. He was inspired to join the French military, and eventually the U.S. Air Force, because of stories his grandparents told of the allies’ actions in the world wars. He also had read a letter of commendation his grandfather received for heroism in World War II.

“When my grandpa was a teenager, he saw an American plane shot down, but the pilot escaped,” Delsert recounted. “He took the American pilot to a safe place – I think to the farm where he lived – and hid him there. He connected the pilot with the Resistance who got him back to the American Army Air Corps.

“My grandpa received a letter of gratitude from the President of the United States who signed it, and we have it framed on the wall in France. This was a great source of inspiration for me to join the military along with all of my ancestors.”

Although the inspiration was there, the route to the military was a circuitous one, as he did what many young people do before hitting the right track in their lives. He found out what didn’t work first.

He reluctantly studied economics and earned a bachelor’s degree. He moved to Australia for a year to work, gain travel experience and learn more English. He returned to France, did more studies, and then went back to Australia for another year, landing a job as a trade advisor in the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce.

“I was like ‘this is definitely not for me,’ so I went to Canada where I studied for two years and got my master’s degree for intelligence study in defense, which I really loved. Right after that, I decided it was time to go back to France to join the military.”

Applying his newfound admiration for analytical sciences, Delsert became an intelligence officer in the French Air Force. “I was 27 when I went into the military,” he said. “First, I worked at the headquarters of the French Army, then I was assigned to the joint headquarters that in France is like the Pentagon.”

His career trajectory changed when he married Paulina and the notion of relocating to the United States became a more prominent topic of conversation. He sealed the deal by signing a delayed entry agreement with the Army Reserve in November 2019. It was a new beginning; a start from scratch and he would be heading for basic training and an initial entry school all over again.

“I kind of expected it even though a small part of me reasoned that France and America are, to me, like the strongest allies militarily, and I thought maybe I wouldn’t have to go back to training,” he said, then sighed, “but I still had to.”

Delsert reflected on the similarities and difference of initial entry training in France and the U.S.

“The main difference to me is how much emphasis the U.S. Air Force puts toward attention to detail. Everything was based on that. Even if we got into trouble, our answer to our MTI was, ‘because we have to pay attention to detail.’ In France, it was not like that, but it was officers’ training, so I’m comparing two different things I suppose.”

The airman wouldn’t be eligible to become a U.S. intelligence officer now because he isn’t a U.S. citizen yet, but he is working on that with plans for a naturalization ceremony by the end of this year.  

“I talked to Paulina about waiting to join until I became a U. S. citizen so I could come in as an officer, but it was like ‘no, the time to make this happen is now,’” Delsert said.

“I know I have the desire to be an intelligence officer again,” he added with a smile, “but I’m also a bit of a space nerd, and if things don’t work out, I may continue my career in the Space Force.”

Someone who has no doubt that things will work out for Delsert no matter which path he chooses is his recent instructor, Air Force Staff Sgt. Lucas Gardona.

“Delsert graduated as the Top Graduate Award winner with a 98 percent class average,” he pointed out. “Additionally, he was assigned class leader duties, taking the place of instructors when they weren’t in the classroom. His ability to lead and mentor his peers in a positive manner while reciprocating respect from them was encouraging to see.

“Of course, he wanted to achieve academically, however, A1C Delsert was especially curious about growing as a leader and wingman and most importantly as the best version of himself. That’s what we love to see, someone who is going to make the most out of this opportunity to serve.”

Delsert credits his wife with helping him be that best version of himself.

“She is really amazing and supportive of my career,” he said. “It’s really difficult for her because she’s alone at home, and she’s confined because the coronavirus hit really hard in New York City.  I feel like that’s really hard, but she never complains about it.

“While I was in basic training with no phone,” he continued, “I was really worried about her and what was going on with COVID-19. When I was finally able to call, I learned that the chief master sergeant of my wing would get in touch with her to see how she was doing because they knew I was in training. I was so grateful that I had joined the Air Force as they really take care of people.

Paulina is currently attending law school and Delsert said he has already hinted at the idea of her joining the U.S. Air Force team as well.

“I’m trying to get her in the reserves to become a Judge Advocate General,” he confirmed. “She’s so amazing and smart, and would be a solid asset for the Air Force. That’s what I like about the military, we all wear the same uniform and are all working toward the same mission. I feel like it brings people together. Even if they are far from their family, it makes people work as family and take care of each other. I like that.”

Delsert’s reserve unit is the 439th Airlift Wing out of Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts. He lives in New York City and works as an assistant to the Counselor of Cultural Services at the French Embassy.