MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
He was a pilot, an Airman, a family man, a commander, a hard worker— in no particular order of course, because his life of duty, honor and love of family was so intertwined.
“He lived and embodied the Air Force Core Values,” said Maj. Nathaniel Nye, 559th Trainee Health Squadron VIPER Sports Medicine Element chief. “Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do — that was grandpa. For him, it was ‘God, family and country.’”
Nye remembers the life of his grandfather, retired Col. Von R. “Chris” Christiansen, a former 366th Tactical Fighter Wing commander.
Sometimes a man of few words as his family describes him, but when he spoke, you listened.
“When I graduated from [Brigham Young University] in 2006 and commissioned, he spoke at my ceremony, and he said something that I’ll never forget,” Nye explained.
“‘The way you gain the unfair advantage over your enemy is not through better technology or better weapons, it’s through better training and a stronger work ethic. Put 100 percent in everything you do, and you will gain the unfair advantage.’”
Christiansen’s words on training and work ethic was how he lived his life. He always aimed to be the best of the best.
He attended the University of Utah and was the top of his class in the Flying/Aviation Cadet Pilot Training Program which earned him a fighter pilot slot in the Air Force. Back then, the program only required two years of college or three years of a scientific or technical education to commission.
At the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School, now the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, he was designated “Top Gun.” Any movie buff would be pleased to hear Christiansen’s call sign was “Iceman” long before Val Kilmer was known as such.
While on active duty he returned to school and completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska, and continued his higher education by earning a Master’s degree in International Relations from George Washington University. Additionally, he was a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College and National War College.
His Air Force career spanned over 26 years. In that time, he flew over 400 combat missions.
During one of those combat missions on June 21, 1972, then Lt. Col. Christiansen achieved an aerial victory when he shot down a MiG-21 over North Vietnam. Christiansen was flying the F-4E Phantom II during that mission. His actions that day are credited with saving the lives of his wingmen, and earned him the recognition as a fighter Ace.
Born and raised in Idaho, his family believes no time was as treasured by Christiansen than his time as the 366th TFW commander. He was the vice commander of the wing from 1977 to 1978, and the commander from 1978 to 1980.
His daughter, Kim Christiansen Tveit, is one of four children. She said her father’s love of country defined their family.
“He was passionate about America, and passed that on to us, for sure,” Tveit said.
Tveit was away in college during her father’s time as wing commander, and said it was always a pleasure to visit Mountain Home because her parents enjoyed their time here so much.
One story she shared was when Christiansen invited country singer Tanya Tucker to visit the base. Christiansen was always willing to put in effort to gain support for the military. So when he had the opportunity to host Tucker, he showed her the wing’s mission and she met with Gunfighter Airmen.
“When [Tucker] left Mountain Home, she referred to my dad as “My Colonel,” Tveit said as she laughed.
Tveit said her father was also big on improving the relationships between Mountain Home AFB and the local community.
“He always made it a priority to inform local leaders on what went on at the base and why it was important, and bridging the gap of understanding,” Tveit said. “It was the late 70’s, it was a different time back then, not everyone understood the mission and may not have fully supported the military.”
Christiansen retired from the Air Force after his time as the 366th TFW commander, and he and his wife of 61 years, Janis, settled down in Idaho where they have been ever since.
Christiansen passed away, at the age of 84, on Aug. 22 of this year. He joins a long list of notable Gunfighter Airmen who will always be remembered for helping make the 366th Fighter Wing the nation’s premiere combat wing.
“Everything my grandpa said and did was true to himself and true to his values,” Nye said. “When I recite the Airman’s Creed I think to myself, ‘that’s who he was.’”