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Unsung Hero: MSgt. Christopher Tilstra

Master Sgt. Christopher Tilstra, AFCEC force development manager, poses next to the entrance of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. AFCEC provides tools, practices and professional support to maximize Air Force civil engineer capabilities in base and contingency operations. The staff comprises technical and professional experts in a variety of areas including engineering, emergency management, training, pavement analysis, fire protection, explosive ordnance disposal, aircraft arresting systems, computer automation and energy management. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cody R. Miller/Released)

Master Sgt. Christopher Tilstra, AFCEC force development manager, poses next to the entrance of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. AFCEC provides tools, practices and professional support to maximize Air Force civil engineer capabilities in base and contingency operations. The staff comprises technical and professional experts in a variety of areas including engineering, emergency management, training, pavement analysis, fire protection, explosive ordnance disposal, aircraft arresting systems, computer automation and energy management. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cody R. Miller/Released)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- An unsung hero is someone who makes a substantive yet unrecognized contribution to the mission. Everybody knows one. Master Sgt. Christopher Tilstra is Air Force Civil Engineer Center's unsung hero. His exemplary leadership and mentorship has made a great contribution to the civil engineering mission and to the Air Force.

Tilstra, an experienced, 20-year Air Force veteran, works as a force development manager for the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) career field of civil engineering.  As a force development manager, he manages the education and training of over 3,300 HVAC total force Airmen; to include, the Air National Guard, Reserves and civil service teammates.

"One of the greatest challenges we face is the technology," Tilstra said. "We write an education plan and once it actually goes through we're already five years behind.  Civil engineers support all facets of an installation, from the flight line to the chow line. We have a necessary mission and we will adapt to whatever challenges come our way."

Though Tilstra has already been in for 20 years, he plans to stay in until he hits his 30-year mark.

"I really like being in the Air Force," Tilstra said. "It's a great experience and I like the people and being able to lead Airmen and mentoring those that need a guiding hand."

Tilstra said his favorite time in the Air Force was when he led a base's Honor Guard unit.

"I did 319 military funerals and 220 flag details," Tilstra said. "Nothing is more rewarding to me than conducting a military funeral.  Military funerals provide two things; pays respect to the fallen and gives the families positive and long-lasting image of their loved one.  They earned it."

Tilstra also recounted his favorite duty station.

"Royal Air Force Lakenheath was my favorite for sure," Tilstra said. "It had history, golf, and it's where I met my wife." 

Tilstra met his wife while on the job, she was an engineering assistant.  Eventually they got married and now raise three daughters together.

Tilstra is originally from Hawarden, Iowa and joined the Air Force after he wanted greater opportunities and a chance to grow as a person. 

"The Air Force really worked for me," Tilstra said.  "It took a guy that needed guidance and structure, and put something in me that made me not just care about myself; it made me care about others and want to help them get on track." 

As a final thought Tilstra gave advice to any Airmen that are just starting out in the Air Force and may be having trouble.

"Mainly I'll say just don't quit, we don't have the time and room for quitters," Tilstra said. "The Air Force can be rewarding, so try and look on the bright side of things. Everything is what you make it and the Air Force can be an amazing opportunity."