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Face of Defense: First Sergeant Leverages First-Responder Skills


Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Turner is a firefighter here. During the week, he responds to fire calls and provides emergency medical assistance to the city's residents. On drill weekends, he responds to the needs of the airmen and families of the Wyoming Air National Guard's 153rd Airlift Wing as a first sergeant.

"When I was growing up, I always wanted to become a firefighter," Turner said. "I like helping people, so becoming a first sergeant was a natural fit."

Turner began his career in the Wyoming Air National Guard as a C-130H engine mechanic. Four years later, he applied to change careers to become a firefighter. He attended the fire academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Witnessing the selfless acts of first responders during the attack and its aftermath affirmed his decision to pursue his dream job as a firefighter, he said.

Watching the televised images of first responders attending to the injuries of the people in New York and reminded of an injured woman he helped while he was driving down a dirt road in 2000, Turner said. She was badly injured from a robbery and was left bleeding in her vehicle when Turner stopped to render aid and drive her to the hospital.

"The feeling I had that night and watching those first responders on 9/11 really helped solidify my decision to help people and become a firefighter," he said.

Road to a Civilian Career

Although he became a firefighter with the Air National Guard, it was still only one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer, he noted, adding that he worked various jobs as a server, retail clerk and with the railroad before accepting a full-time position with Cheyenne Fire Rescue. 

After being hired by the city, Turner attended firefighter training at the Front Range Fire Consortium Fire Recruit Academy in 2007. Since then, he has performed duties as acting lieutenant, has taken on additional duties as part of CFR's public relations committee, and has assisted with community fundraising projects. 

"Tom supports the department in many ways thanks to his experiences in the military," said Lt. Jarrett Demello, Cheyenne Fire Rescue lieutenant of operations. "He is always reliable and willing to help anyone who needs him."

Although he was a first responder with his civilian employer and with the Wyoming Air National Guard, Turner said, he wanted to help airmen more than just as a firefighter. He was approached in 2010 by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Sarah Brewster, 153rd Airlift Wing human resource advisor, who was a first sergeant at the time. She encouraged him to apply his first responder skills as a first sergeant.

"You care about people and take pride in helping others," Brewster said, "so put a diamond on and let your airmen be your priority."

Turner finished the First Sergeant Academy in 2010 and was assigned as the first sergeant for the 153rd Logistics Readiness Squadron. As the needs of the wing changed, he became the security forces squadron's first sergeant and finally took the first sergeant position for the wing staff. He will retire his first sergeant diamond in December after 20 years with the Wyoming Air National Guard, but he'll still be responding to the needs of the residents of Cheyenne in his civilian career.