Marine Corps firefighting creates new life for Texas native
ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE BASE TINDAL, Australia -- Looking for some excitement and a job that meant something more to him, Michael Barton left the monotony of working in the oil fields of Texas and followed in the footsteps of family and friends, joining the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 20.
“Most of my friends had joined the military by then,” said Barton. “My father served in the Corps as intel, and my Great Uncle Eddie fought in Korea alongside Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller. I feel like I’m carrying on a family tradition, and I hope someday my kids will too.”
Choosing the military occupational specialty 7000, air operations, Barton headed off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in 2013 to become one of the few and the proud, and then onto MOS school, where he trained to be a firefighter.
“I love my job,” said Barton. “I feel like it’s one of the best jobs in the Marine Corps. Knowing that somebody is having a bad day, and we’re able to alleviate that by saving a life or an aircraft definitely gives you a good feeling. They get to go home at night because of something we did.”
Today, the Houston, Texas native is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, serving as an aircraft rescue firefighter specialist with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171.
Living in Japan has given Barton countless opportunities to travel around the Pacific region on deployments; first to Thailand then to the Philippines and currently at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia.
For the next few weeks, Barton serves as the liaison between the No. 17 Squadron Fire and Rescue team stationed at RAAF Tindal, and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 during Exercise Pitch Black 2016.
VMFA-122 is home based out of MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, and are currently assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 12 at MCAS Iwakuni with the Unit Deployment Program.
“As a liaison, I assist the No. 17 firefighters in emergencies involving the Marine F/A-18C Hornets,” said Barton. “Our standard operating procedures are slightly different as well as our aircraft.”
Barton said the No. 17 team instantly took him on as one of their own and does everything they do from cleaning to going out on calls, but was surprised to find that both services basically operate and train the same way.
“The first day I was here, they put me on a truck, on crew, wet checks and maintenance,” said Barton. “I love being here, learning from them and being able to support our Marines and aircraft in case of an emergency.”
Despite almost parallel daily schedules, Barton has the vital task of ensuring VMFA-122’s pilots and aircraft are able to accomplish their mission successfully and safely.
“Having a Marine here to teach us what their procedures are makes our job easier during Pitch Black,” said Cpl. Luke Van Den Heuvel, a firefighter with No. 17 Squadron. “Especially one like Cpl. Barton — he’s quiet, but is very knowledgeable about his job.”
Barton still gets excited every time the alarm rings; never knowing what possible emergency has arisen.
“Most of the alarms we’ve had so far are hot brake landings, when an aircraft lands and the brakes are held too long making them overheat and possibly explode, causing a fire,” said Barton. “Another alarm is arrested landings. When an aircraft has any number of problems, it has to take the hook. The jets have tail hooks that drop and snag a cable running across the runway to stop an aircraft.”
After Pitch Black, Barton will continue serving as an aircraft rescue firefighter specialist at MCAS Iwakuni where he extended an extra year.
“I love the camaraderie in Iwakuni,” said Barton. “Back in the states after work, most people go their separate ways. Being stationed in Japan, everyone lives together on and off work, creating a family atmosphere.”
The discipline, awareness, certifications and qualifications earned on the job is preparing Barton for life after the military where he plans to continue his career as a firefighter after the Marine Corps.
“Being a firefighter in the Marine Corps has set me up for life,” said Barton. “After retirement or getting out of the military, most of the qualifications earned during active duty will carry over for a smooth transition.”