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Citizen Airman, Citizen Firefighter

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Melissa Estévez
  • 477th Fighter Group Public Affairs

Kaitlyn Lawton enlisted in the Air Force as an Airman 1st Class in 2011 as an aircraft armaments systems technician, loading bombs and missiles on F-22 Raptors. She began her family shortly thereafter, and had two boys, Jayden and Ethan.

Lawton served on active duty for six years before crossing into the Air Force Reserve, where she continued in aircraft armaments systems as an Air Reserve Technician. ARTs carry a dual status and are full-time civilian employees who serve as Air Force Reserve uniformed drill members one weekend a month and at least 14 days a year of annual training. During the normal five-day workweek, ARTs perform as civilians – maintaining and operating the Reserve facility in direct support of their unit.

“She has always had a great work ethic and a passion for what she does,” said Air Force Capt. Benjamin Murphy, director of operations for the 477th Maintenance Squadron and the 477th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with her as a flightline weapons troop, a back shop armament troop, and now in public affairs; wherever she goes, she does incredible work!”

After serving nine and a half years in the enlisted force, Lawton commissioned as a second lieutenant in May 2019 through the Deserving Airman Program and became the 477th Fighter Group public affairs officer. She currently serves as a traditional reservist, and during the week she is the public affairs officer in a civilian/federal capacity.

Lawton said she commissioned in hopes of becoming a commander one day.

“I have been led by commanders who have shown amazing leadership traits and have gone above and beyond for their Airmen,” she said. “I want to be that commander for others.”

“When I found out she was commissioning I couldn’t think of a better person to take on that responsibility,” said Murphy. “One thing we need more than ever is passionate leaders who care about people and who work hard to better the Air Force, and she has always been one of those people.”

Shortly before leaving for officer training school, Lawton decided to begin volunteering as a firefighter with the Butte Fire Department, Palmer, Alaska. She is currently a firefighter II, rescue technician and driver operator. She holds a wildland firefighter certification and serves as the Butte Fire Department’s public education and fire prevention representative.

“It can be vary rewarding to see subordinates excel in their knowledge and eventually move into leadership roles or specialty firefighting,” said Butte Fire Department Lieutenant Stephani Russell. “I believe Lawton has a great future in fire, as a firefighter she is very attentive, very eager to learn, and a great subordinate.”

Her drive to become a firefighter began when three little girls, around the age of her children, perished in a fire. Soon after, a five-year-old boy was in a fatal car accident where he was pinned under the vehicle.

“Having two very young kids, those tragedies broke my heart,” Lawton said. “Additionally, I was having a hard time understanding my impact in the mission as a public affairs officer; as an aircraft maintainer your purpose is very direct. Becoming a firefighter gave me a way to have a direct impact and a purpose again.”

As a volunteer firefighter, she attends weekly training to practice principles and techniques and prepare for the unknowns of the job. A call could be any type of emergency – from a residential or wildland fire to a motor vehicle accident or providing emergency first aid.

“Lawton must be able to pull and advance hose lines, conduct search and rescue, perform ventilation, forcible entry, and other assigned tasks on fire and emergency scenes,” said Russell. “There are several different specialties regarding firefighting: airport, technical rescue, rural firefighting and HazMat.”

Whether it’s in her job at the 477th or volunteering at the Butte Fire Department, she selflessly dedicates her life to helping others.

“You can’t control when a fire will start; when your pager goes off, you just have to be ready to drop what you are doing at any moment,” Lawton said. “It’s all about being able to be there for someone during the worst moment of their life.

Responding to a call can involve crawling into a structure engulfed in flames to rescue someone you have never met. A response can be conducting a search in negative temperatures to rescue a lost victim who broke his leg five miles into the wilderness and down a 30-foot rock ledge.

“It takes a person who is humble, dedicated, and a team player to be a firefighter,” said Butte District Fire Chief Michael Shipton. “Being a firefighter means having compassion and empathy for the individuals we help every day and having that feeling of reward when we do the job without the glory of recognition.”

Airmen like Lawton embody the Whole Airman Concept and exemplify the Air Force’s core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Reserve Citizen Airmen increase experience to the Total Force through continuity of service from the Active component, while cross-walking high-impact skills from the civilian sector.