MCAS BEAUFORT S.C. -- Hearty laughs filled the Officer’s club aboard the Air Station July 18, as firefighters, paramedics, family and friends gathered for a retirement ceremony.
Chief Hector Cajigas, retired after 32 years of service in many capacities, most recently as the Air Station fire chief.
“It’s been a long road,” Cajigas said. “I started training on [Marine Corps Recruit Depot] Parris Island, and Beaufort has been home since 1986.”
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native served four years in the Marine Corps. After he completed his tour, he returned to Beaufort and became a firefighter at Parris Island and later aboard the Air Station. He also served as a public safety officer in Port Royal totaling 28 years of service in Beaufort.
“Cajigas’ amount of time and sacrifice in service to the Air Station and this country is impressive,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Fitzgerald, Air Station executive officer.
Fitzgerald presented Cajigas with a certificate of appreciation from Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps and a certificate of commendation from Col. Brian C. Murtha, the Air Station commanding officer, praising the chief for his service.
“His choice of a career dedicated to serving our nation places him in a special category,” said Amos in the certificate of appreciation. “He and his fellow employees have provided the strength and skill to keep this great democracy working and working well. Only those who have served our nation know the satisfaction that comes from keeping the complex machinery of our government running. He is a member of an elite group of people who choose this path of service to the public.”
After accepting the awards, Cajigas returned the credit for his success to those who he worked with.
“I’ve met so many good people here,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for them. They have helped me throughout my entire career, and I’m glad they are here today to share this moment with me. ”
Joe Otterbine, the Air Station lead fire inspector has served under Cajigas Since 2004.
“His Corps Values are outstanding, to say the least,” Otterbine said. “His concern for other people, honesty, integrity, and meticulous way of doing things made him a great leader. It was hard for him to sit behind a desk because he likes taking a hands on approach to everything. He was always out there as a part of the crew.”
His involved approach to training and mentorship earned the respect of his crew both in the office and on call. He is also known to have a healthy sense of humor.
Cajigas stands a full head shorter than most of his fellow fire fighters, for every jab about his height, Cajigas had a witty retort.
“We always gave him a hard time about being short,” Otterbine said. “But he is a giant when it comes to other things.”
With his retirement from the MCAS Fire Station, Cajigas will open a new chapter of service as the next Beaufort Co. deputy sheriff.