386th AEW firefighters disprove doubters, build lasting bonds

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Eric M. Sharman
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing

This is the second in a two-part series on the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing female firefighters. Click here for the first part of this series.

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The term Airman is non-specific by design. It encompasses all genders, all ranks and all careers. In this way, the term Airman is similar to the term firefighter. At the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing there are four female firefighters who are doing the same physically demanding work as their male counterparts, and exemplify what makes the Air Force so progressive.


In their physically demanding profession, the women of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing fire department know how to manipulate techniques to perform the same tasks as the men. As Senior Airman Christa Dennis, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter said, the fire department is all about playing to your strengths.

“There are some things we might manipulate differently to put more work on our legs than our upper body, so we may do some tasks differently than a man,” said Staff Sgt. Jessica Mendoza, a 386th ECES firefighter deployed from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. “There’s certain ways I’ll hold a hand line, because I know my biceps will tire out sooner, so I’ll use my hips more.”

It is these techniques and manipulations that are essential to their success. Regardless of the methods they have to use, they know that the same is expected out of them, and they are dedicated to performing at the same level as their peers.

“It’s tough because we are 50 to 70 pounds lighter than the guys, but we wear what they wear, we carry what they carry,” said Mendoza. “When we do training they don’t give us a separate dummy to carry. It’s like they are saying ‘you’re going to do this, because you are one of us.’”


Through their experiences, these female firefighters have used the challenges they have faced as inspiration. The stigma of lesser strength has only motivated them to work harder to disprove those assumptions.

“I don’t have to look like I can carry you out of a building, just know that I can. I worked so hard to get to where I am, and for someone to be doubt my abilities, is very frustrating,” said Senior Airman Ashley Eisenbarth, 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, deployed from Luke Air Force Base.  “Sometimes when people seemed surprised that I’m a firefighter it’s hard because you can’t just not do your job after that. If you respond to a house fire, you can’t tell a victim ‘oh, I can’t carry you, I’m too small.’”

In addition to knowing their job as a means to disprove doubters, these female firefighters rely on their performance to build bonds with their fellow firefighters, according to Senior Airman Ayanna Gaskin, a 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, deployed from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga.

“If I see something that I can do to help out, I always try to go out of my way and do that, because I feel as though being a firefighter really is being a part of another family, and you just have to build a bond or relationship to let each other know that you can be trusted and that you have their back,” said Gaskin.

Understanding this bond, and doing their part in carrying equal weight in their departments, has helped these women prove their worth, and instilled confidence in their abilities, especially within their leadership corps.

 "When we are on a fire scene or training, we don't have to worry about giving certain jobs to certain people, because these women are completely capable of performing any duty assigned to them,” said Master Sgt. Daron Davis, 386th CES deputy fire chief. "I know they may have had a tougher path than the males, but that just made them stronger. I hope they're proud of themselves for facing the challenges they've overcome, because I’m proud of them."