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19 CES Airman follows dreams to become AF firefighter

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kristine M. Gruwell
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A young boy walks through a firehouse with boots laid out and fire gear hung across the hooks one after the other, waiting to be donned by firefighters in response to whatever disaster has interrupted the lives of the public.

The speakers ring so loud the boy presses his hands firmly against his ears to protect them. Firefighters rush in through the doors in response. Among the men is the boy’s father, the firefighter he looks up to the most.

His father leaves with sirens wailing and lights flashing, to save whoever’s life is on the line, while his son watches completely inspired by the heroism he just witnessed.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Corey Calkins, 19th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, recalls the fast-paced environment of the firehouse his father worked at in South Hadley, Massachusetts, throughout his childhood.

“I grew up around a firehouse and I always looked to everyone there as role models, especially my dad,” Calkins said. “I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, he was a firefighter for 32 years.”

As Calkins became old enough to establish a career, he was conflicted between two professions — joining the Air Force or becoming a firefighter, so Calkins began to look into both career options.

According to Calkins, he knew joining the Air Force would mean serving his country and becoming a firefighter would mean continuing his family heritage.

“I saw things from both sides and was very conflicted, so I went to check out my options,” Calkins said. “After further research I realized I could do both, which is when I decided to become a firefighter in the Air Force.”

Following basic military training and firefighter technical training, Calkins received orders to the 19th CES as a firefighter at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. Throughout his training and experience, he realized combining his aspirations was the best choice to make for his career.

“This base provides us regular training because we don’t have many incidents that require us to utilize all our skills necessary to be a firefighter,” Calkins said. “When we had a large fire on base, my heart was racing and I froze for a second, but I was confident I could be the person to help that family because of the training I received here.”

Not only does Calkins feel ready for unknown daily challenges, the support and bond between him and his fellow Airmen make the long hours worth the sacrifice. 

“Unlike your typical jobs, we don’t usually get the holidays off,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Sylvester Dass, 19th CES fire inspector and Calkins’s supervisor. “When we don’t get that time off to spend with our family, we spend it with our work family. The camaraderie and brotherhood that we have makes us feel at home every day.”

It’s that brotherhood and camaraderie that keeps Calkins’s motivated.

“Every day, when I walk into work I know I made the right choice to follow in my father’s footsteps of becoming a firefighter and do so while serving my country,” Calkins said.