SOUTHWEST ASIA --
For one Westover firefighter, his first deployment holds a deeper meaning than most.
“It was hard not to get a little emotional when I saw the aircraft take off,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark McKunes, a 439th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter who’s on his first deployment here to Southwest Asia. “Being deployed during 9/11 was very moving—that’s the reason I joined the Air Force.”
Although the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, inspired McKunes to fight for his country, he said he’s stayed in the service for opportunities like this deployment where he’s assigned to the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron here.
“It’s a big deal to me to be here during the anniversary—I participated in the First Responder Silent March to honor 9/11 (victims), which was very powerful,” he said.
McKunes, a 15-year Air Force veteran who volunteered for this deployment, said he is making the most of every day here. In addition to completing courses and taking CLEP tests for his Community College of the Air Force degree, McKunes is also working on career progression and is a volunteer with the Honor Guard.
“I try to keep busy in lots of different ways,” McKunes said. “Running was my enemy and I want to challenge myself to conquer it.”
To that end, McKunes completed a 10K, and plans to complete one each month of the deployment.
“If there is another half-marathon while I’m here, I will complete that too,” McKunes said. “That is my goal.”
The transition from being a traditional Reservist to being full-time deployed has been easy for McKunes.
“Prior to deploying, I trained full-time with the Westover Fire Department for six months,” McKunes said. “That training at Westover refreshed my skills and prepared me well.”
McKunes also credits his leadership at Westover for the smooth transition and his ability to function capably in a deployed environment.
“Everything here is very fast paced, but we work well as a team,” McKunes said. “We all come from different locations and bases, but because we all train the same way at home, we came together as a perfect team. It’s as if we’ve been working together for years.”
As part of his firefighting mission, McKunes is hosting a firefighter PT challenge during October’s fire prevention week.
“The competition will be open to all units, but firefighters can’t compete,” McKunes said. “It’s a fun way to bring fire prevention awareness to the base."
The diversity of mission opportunities while deployed also keeps McKunes on his toes.
“I love being able to step out of firefighting sometimes and work alongside EOD and Security Forces for UXO missions,” McKunes said. “We also work on different aircraft here than at home, so that expands my knowledge and ability.”