Firefighter lands smooth reenlistment at Andersen, takes off into four more years of service
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — Air Force pilots take off and land at Andersen Air Force Base on a daily basis. It’s not every day, however, that a firefighter sits behind the controls headed for the airstrip.
In celebration of his reenlistment, Staff Sgt. Michael Clayton, a fire inspector with the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron and licensed private pilot, was authorized to land a private sport aircraft on the tarmac here -- just in time for his ceremony Jan. 24.
Taking off from Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport in Tamuning, Guam, Clayton boarded the aircraft with his family and piloted the Piper Arrow, a complex single-engine trainer aircraft, towards Andersen AFB to take his oath right on the flightline, committing to another four years of service.
“A reenlistment is one of the proudest moments for a military member and family,” Clayton said. “We wanted to make it special and thought, ‘What better way to blend my love for aviation with my desire to serve than by putting them together in one ceremony?’”
During his daily job as a fire inspector, Clayton ensures base compliance with existing fire codes, makes recommendations for fire protection measures and administers the community fire prevention program. While he loves the job, he said, he hopes to one day fly Air Force aircraft.
“Sergeant Clayton is an all-around firefighter,” said Stanley Torres, Andersen fire chief. “He is among one of our outstanding NCOs and does his job really well. We hate to lose him as a member of the team, but we’ll support him in his goal to become a commissioned pilot.”
While he doesn’t yet fly for the Air Force, Clayton is an aviation enthusiast who takes to the sky whenever possible. His love for the sport started when his wife bought him an introductory flight around Guam.
“I just fell in love,” Clayton said. “Being behind the controls of an aircraft is not something you can replace with anything else. It’s truly fun, liberating and free.”
After concluding a brief celebration with fellow firefighters at Fire Station 1, Clayton launched his aircraft again for the return flight. The take off over the cliff line above Pati Point, he said, was a highlight of his young flying career.
“If you can pick a place to fly, where better than an island?” Clayton said. “You get to see the beaches, the hills. There is so much to take in. Not to mention, the opportunity to visit other islands; it’s an easy trip with an aircraft, and it’s truly an incredible experience.”
While off duty, Clayton also participates in the Civil Air Patrol, the official Air Force auxiliary, which aims to provide valuable services to both local and national agencies through search and rescue support, aerospace education and cadet programs. Established in 2016, the Andersen Cadet Flight attempts to establish this long standing organization on island.
“Being part of the Civil Air Patrol helps me pursue my love of aviation,” he said. “We are growing our small unit at this time here on base, and it’s exciting to see other people who also enjoy aviation coming to such a great organization and taking part of something that’s been taking place since World War II.”
While flying is a demanding hobby, Clayton said it also offers surprising benefits for his Air Force job, which rarely allows him to go airborne. On and off the flightline, learning about the mechanics of flight, demands of landing and takeoff, allows him to increase his mental fire rescue toolkit.
“As firefighters we deal a lot with the flightline, civilian and military aircraft,” he said. “You can gain so much knowledge from actually being in the aircraft for once and getting to see it from the other side. It gives you a better in-depth understanding of what you’re working with on and around the aircraft.”
These experiences allow Clayton to stay engaged and increase his understanding of risks involved in aviation operations. While he is hoping for a professional future in the cockpit, Clayton said he is excited for whatever the future holds for him and his young family.
“This is a guarantee of another four years of commitment to standing next to my brothers in arms and serving next to them,” he said. “It’s also very exciting to see where the military will take us next. People join the Air Force for a lot of different reasons; some want to see the world — and pilots get see it from a whole new perspective. I simply look forward to the different experiences the military will bring.”