Growing up, Airman 1st Class Emily Beckerjeck said she never thought of herself as different.
With both a brother and a father in her household and a neighborhood of boys as playmates, she said her upbringing was perhaps not typical, but added she could see where those experiences led to where she is now.
“I like physical jobs, I like being very physical,” she said. “I grew up with boys, so anything that they could do I could do too.”
A firefighter with the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy, for the last seven months Leavenworth native Beckerjeck has been in that same sort of environment, working amongst men in a physically and sometimes mentally demanding
job. She said she wouldn't have it any other way.
“I actually chose this job,” she said. “I went to a recruiter and I told them I wanted a guaranteed job.”
Working 24-hour shifts on a staggered schedule, Beckerjeck is one of about 60 other firefighters charged with protecting the 31st Fighter Wing, responding to in-flight emergencies and motor-vehicle accidents.
Though she was not a product of it, Beckerjeck admitted that women in her position are rare but said she does feel that the Department of Defense's recent announcement to allow women into combat roles will increase the ranks of her female peers.
“I think that I could be an example that women can meet the standards,” she said. “We can do whatever you can do.”
For anyone, she said those standards can be intense. Beckerjeck said her unit undergoes regular workouts and continual training, including physical testing that requires wearing as much as 75 pounds of gear and completing crucial job-related tasks in eight minutes or less.
A 2011 Leavenworth High School graduate, Beckerjeck also credited her experiences here as part of her alma mater's JROTC unit as helping her achieve her goals.
“It was actually part of what got me interested. It really actually set me up for success,” she said. “ It reinforced what I wanted to do, definitely.”
Despite her status on the only female in what even for the civilian sector is still a predominantly male occupation, Beckerjeck said her fellow firefighters at Aviano AFB don't treat her much differently.
Still, she said she took special pride in a recent trip to a school near the base. The look in the children's eyes, she said, made her feel like a role model.
“I like being that role model for the girls,” she said, adding that as a firefighter she can also be an example to the boys.
On Wednesday, Beckerjeck said she was looking forward to training in Morocco with live fires. Asked what she would be doing if she weren't a firefighter, Beckerjeck said she hadn't thought a lot about it.
Page 2 of 2 - “I have no idea to be completely honest,” she said. “It seems like a lot of people don't get what they want and I was one of the lucky people that did.”