Firefighter switches to fighter pilot

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — Staff Sgt. Garrett Christensen, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron Logistics NCO in charge, is crossing over to the Air Force officer corps where he hopes to become an F-22 Raptor fighter pilot.

“Christensen is one of 12 Airmen selected for basic officer training school program,” said Steven Kinkade, 56th CES assistant chief of training. “Being selected is like winning the lottery or being the first pick of the draft. He has incredible drive and commitment. I am extremely proud of him. He’s been like a son to me.”

Christensen’s never-ending determination and creative networking allowed him to stand out from other applicants.

“I didn’t have any flight experience, so I found any opportunity I could to get some training or knowledge,” Christensen said. “The connections I’ve made in the Air Force and the surrounding community allowed me to experience more than 20 hours in an F-16 simulator. I also spent a day training in a high-altitude chamber. I know now how my body is going to react to hypoxia at 25,000 feet and what it feels like to be disoriented due to lack of oxygen.”

Christensen’s preparation gave him the boost he needed for his OTS package.

“I was accepted on my first try,” Christensen said. “A lot of guys were on their second, third or fourth attempt. I took the package very seriously and spent years putting it together.”

Christensen’s training with the fire department has prepared him for some of the challenges he will face as a pilot.

“Christensen has to do a lot of critical thinking and make decisions quickly. As a firefighter, he has to be able to save lives in emergency situations,” Kinkade said. “I believe he’ll be a great mentor to his fellow pilot trainees because he’s already working in a job that requires teamwork.”

Firefighters build incredible bonds because they have only each other during high-stress situations. These strong relationships gave Christensen the support he needed to make his dream a reality.

“The fire department and the Air Force in general is a family,” Christensen said. “I’m with the firefighters more than I am with my own family at times. They all have supported, prayed for and mentored me to become the man I am today.”

Christensen has numerous people cheering him on, but his biggest supporter is at home.

“My wife has been my biggest supporter from day one, and I can’t thank her enough,” Christensen said. “I’ve realized my wife is more invested in this than I am. She is at home playing both roles, which takes an incredible amount of love. Because of her, I have the opportunity to transition from running into burning buildings to piloting an aircraft.”


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