Marine by day, Firefighter by night

24 May 2002 | SSgt. Nikki Clingerman

Imagine working in a job and loving it so much that one is willing to put more than 300 hours a month into it to be there to help a fellow comrade, friend or stranger.

A corporal from Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 is doing just that and living the life that he has dreamed since he was a boy.

When Cpl. Adam Smith is not loading ordnance on the F/A-18D Hornet that he works on daily, he can be found loading a fire truck at The City of Beaufort Fire Department, station 2, where he spends most of his time off as a volunteer firefighter.

"I have wanted to be a firefighter since I was born." Smith said.  " I feel I was supposed to be here to help out as a firefighter and a police officer."

The Evansville, Ind., native joined the Marine Corps initially because of numerous recommendations from the Fire Departments he was applying for. He would find out that it would pay off for him in more ways than one.

"When I started asking around, a lot of the guys in the departments were former Marines and they kept saying that if I had some military experience, I had a better chance of being looked at first." Smith said.

Although he was not able to get into a military occupational specialty of fire fighting or police work, he still has obtained and earned the discipline, camaraderie and esprit de corps that is engrained in every leatherneck and highly regarded in the civilian sector of civil service occupations.

"Marines are the best, the elite and known for looking good in their uniform.  They are clean and have a good appearance," Smith said.  "The outside agencies know when they pick a Marine they don't have to worry about instilling discipline - it's already in us."

Smith joined the Marine Corps in March of 2000 and checked into the squadron on Oct. 25.  Three days later, he was a volunteer firefighter in Beaufort. Although he is only 21-years-old, he has been expressing a willingness to learn all he can about the job since he was 15.

"I was working in the fire and ambulance services for five years before I joined," Smith said.  "When I came here (Marine Corps) that was my main concern about joining. I thought that I would lose the opportunity to fight fires, but thanks to my command, I can be in (the corps) and still be a firefighter."

A lot of what is learned in the Marine Corps, Smith has carried over into his work with the department.  According to Smith, the core values taught to him as a Marine are used time and time again.

"You have to have honor to volunteer in this line of work or it is like you are doing it for nothing," he said. "And courage, I have to use courage almost everyday."

He also stressed that as a volunteer, a person has to be committed and used the example of sitting down to dinner when the call comes in. According to Smith, a person cannot just sit there and finish their dinner because they feel they are just a volunteer. They have to be willing to go at a moments notice no matter what they are doing.

"If we weren't there to help, then the fire truck would go out with two guys instead of four and that could make a big difference," Smith said.  "Also we have to sweep and swab every night and we do it for free-that's commitment."

Smith is not the only service member who is a volunteer firefighter.  Another VMFA(AW)-224 Marine has recently joined Smith on the department and shares the same common bond and love for what he does.

"It's not about the money, we do it because we love it," said Lance Cpl. Tom J. Junkin, 224's ground training non-commissioned officer in charge.  "It's about serving the community and giving back to the community we live in."

Not only are these Marines involved with firefighting, but they have recently devoted their time to the police department as well.

Every Friday evening and all-day Saturday they can be found training to become police officers and by June 8, both hard-chargers will be state-certified police officers.

"We don't party and we just don't want to sit around and be barracks rats," Junkin said.  "We want to help people and our life right now is public safety."

For the two Marines, the rewards are even more satisfying.

"When the doors are open and the trucks are outside," Junkin said. "People drive by and wave and bring their kids by and that's rewarding."

Fortunately for these Marines, they have a command that gives them the opportunity to excel toward their goals.

"We have Marines who are employed part-time or attending off-duty education classes as well as these volunteers," said Chief Warrant Officer - 2 Porfirio Valasquez, ordnance officer, VMFA(AW)-224. 

"It's a lot better option than sitting in the barracks doing nothing.  If it doesn't affect their performance or availability, then I think that they have a good goal and should go for it."

These Marines can be found on any given day-giving back to the community.  Fighting fires or rushing to a victim's rescue, they carry with them the pride and confidence gained by being one of the few and the proud.

"We work everyday because we love it," Smith said.  "The brotherhood of firefighting is like that in the Marine Corps, when we go on calls and we walk into the house, and someone asks if we are Marines, we ask them how they can tell," he continued. "They say it's our appearance, it's the way we carry ourselves.  They always say, 'Oh we can tell.'"