A Burning Love: U.S. Air Force Fire Fighter Wins 12 OAY
Story by SrA Gabrielle Spalding on 09/11/2019
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti In the history of the U.S. Air Force, only three firefighters have been chosen for this distinct honor.
Through dedication, resilience, a passion for his team and his love of fire, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Justin Starks, crew chief and firefighter, was named as one of the Air Force’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2018.
“It is an honor,” said Starks. “I thank my wife, and those over me and under me. It is a humbling experience and I’m thankful for it.”
Starks, who is currently deployed to the 776th Expeditionary Air Squadron, Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, from the 11th Wing Civil Engineer Squadron (11th CES), Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, was recognized for his superior leadership, job performance, community involvement, and personal achievements.
“Justin had a very diverse awards package,” U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Ashontay Owens, assistant fire chief for operations, 11th CES. ” [He] took advantage of [every] opportunity and utilized them to maximize and elevate not only himself, but also this entire department, squadron and wing.”
Setting goals for himself, learning on the job, taking classes, and studying career development courses all allowed him to further his proficiency at his job, said Starks. Giving him the experience and skills he needs to handle the many challenging situations faced as a first responder.
Applying this breadth of knowledge and devotion, Starks was able to help save the life of a U.S. Navy Sailor who was involved in a car accident. Starks cut the car open, extracted the member out of the vehicle, provided first aid, and drove the patient to a helicopter unit for a life flight to nearby hospital, Owens said.
For these actions, Starks was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal.
“I know that I can always count on Justin to place our customers at ease and improve their situation,” said Owens.
Learning the job in order to be able to help others, whether it be saving lives, or guiding future firefighters, Starks believes that he could not do it without the support of his team.
“There is nothing in this world you can’t do with out a team,” said Starks. “You can’t do it by yourself, especially in the military, especially in the fire service. There is always a team going into a burning building, saving that medical patient, saving lives, protecting property. There’s always going to be that team in place.”
This win was just as important for Starks as it was for the entire fire community, he said. Because of the tight-knit nature of the fire service, he was happy to bring it home to them.
“There are a lot of great guys with me and we wanted to bring it home,” Starks said. “A lot of people who’ve been in this field for a long time, they were happy we were able to bring it home to the civil engineer world and the fire department as a whole.”
Starks knew he wanted to join the military, but never thought about becoming a firefighter, he said. Nevertheless, as he continued learning about it, going through technical school then getting to his first duty station, his love for fire and his new brotherhood grew.
“We are like a family,” said Starks. “I wouldn’t be sitting here doing an interview without my team behind me, pushing me forward. Throughout the good times and the bad times over the past couple of years, they always kept me on track and pushed me forward. Hopefully I return the same for them so they can stay motivated.”
Even through the challenges he has faced, Starks pushed forward, and remained committed to the mission, his team and his family. This dedication demonstrates why his achievements over this past year, and career, have brought him to this point.
“We know he very much deserves this award,” said Owens. “He is nothing but family, and we should take care of our family and shower them with all of the love and support they need and deserve.”