WINGMEN: AF firefighters are life-long friends

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Andre Bowser
  • 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It's rare that two life-long friends can say they've traveled all around the country and the world in the military - together. But that's the case with SrA. Jason Barnett and SrA. Andrew Nelson. The two wingmen grew up together in the Nutmeg State, attended and graduated from Connecticut colleges the same year, worked together at the same insurance company in their civilian careers - and in 2010, they both joined the Air Force Reserve to escape their desk jobs.

"We always jokingly say that we were friends before we were born because our mothers and fathers are good friends, as well," said SrA. Nelson, who along with his buddy serves as a military firefighter on base.

"For as long as I can I remember, I wanted to be a firefighter," said SrA. Nelson, who added that after applying for several firefighting jobs in his home state and taking and passing tests, he had little luck in landing a civilian firefighting job. "I joined the Air Force Reserve to serve my country and to become a military firefighter because I believed it would get me closer to my goal of a career in firefighting."

SrA. Barnett shared his friend's passion and interest in pursuing a more exciting career than the insurance industry.

"After we joined and went off to boot camp, it was amazing how fast things happened," said SrA. Barnett, who attended recruit training at Lackland Air Force Base before going to his firefighting technical school, the Louis F. Garland DoD Fire Academy, in 2011 at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas. "Our technical school was intense and once we graduated, we were fully certified firefighters."

The pair returned to Westover's 439th Civil Engineering Squadron and took advantage of the seasoning training program, which allowed them to work for several months at the base fire station alongside military and federal civilian firefighters.

"I enjoyed the experience so much, it made me want to become a federal civilian firefighter here," SrA. Nelson said.

The friends were both so dedicated to the challenge of landing fulltime firefighting jobs, they decided their best shot would be by gaining experience outside of the training setting.

"We both volunteered to deploy because we wanted real-world experience," SrA. Barnett said. They were quickly selected even though the pair had only been in the reserve for about two years. Because of the high demand for firefighting crews in deployed areas of responsibility, the friends set off on a six-month deployment at an undisclosed location in the Middle East with the 405th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron.

"We were on a tiny airbase and everyone knew or knew of each other," SrA. Nelson said. "It was extremely hot with low humidity and an intense sun -- so staying hydrated was vital."

SrA. Barnett said they stayed busy with their firefighting jobs, which included studying for certifications, training on equipment and maintaining a physical fitness regimen. "Fortunately, we had a world-class fitness center on the base," he said.

After completing their tours, the lifelong wingmen returned from their deployment in the fall of 2013 and never had to go back to their desk jobs: SrA. Nelson started a job at Barnes Air National Guard Base as a full-time civilian firefighter, and SrA. Barnett started a job at Bradley International Airport working as a firefighter for the Connecticut ANG.

The wingmen said they've set their sights on their next goal: "Joining Westover's award-winning federal civilian firefighters," along with continuing as reserve firefighters on the base.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you know of an extraordinary wingman story, contact Public Affairs and share your tale of friendship among Airmen. E-mail