GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Flames feverishly burn through the desolate carcass of a vehicle as propane fumes overpower the air. The flames lick across the vehicle for any remaining scraps to burn, nipping and hissing along the ride.
Navy, Coast Guard, Army, Marine and Air Force uniforms are specked across the joint learning environment under their fire protection gear.
Billows of black smoke puffed into the air surrounding the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy pad as a medium-sized figure in fire protection gear leads a pack of students in dousing the vengeful flames with water.
With the simulated vehicle fire suppressed, the 312th Training Squadron fire protection students put out a different kind of fire in their own lungs.
As their fire protection headgear is removed for hydration, a sandy brown bun stands out from the rest of the shaved heads.
“She is tough,” said Army Staff Sgt. Roderick Dixon, 169th Engineer Battalion fire instructor. “The very first day outside, she volunteered to pull a large diameter hose 200 feet, before any other female and all but one male. I was surprised when I saw her pulling it down without bounding back or quitting.”
Kristina Schneider, a 40-year-old mother of two, surprised everyone not only with her age or gender, but also with her level of success in the classroom and outside.
“Airman Schneider is twice her classmates’ age,” said Dixon. “And she is keeping up with them, if not surpassing them in the course objectives.”
Though Schneider started her career as a civilian firefighter and paramedic over eight years ago and has since graduated from three fire academies, she knew she could do more and be better.
“I joined the Air National Guard-- later in life-- because of my children,” said the Ohio native. “I didn’t want to regret not doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I always tell my kids, ‘no matter what you want to do, you can do it if you put the work in.’ I wanted to lead by example.”
From waking up at 3 a.m. to working out twice a day, Schneider has put in the necessary work to be successful.
“Going into this, I knew I had to be physically fit, especially being a female,” said Schneider, who scored a 99.8% on her last Physical Training test. “In this career field, there’s no difference in male or female requirements.”
Top physical endurance and strength are not the only requirements needed to be successful in the career field.
“Academically speaking, she has one of the top scores,” said Dixon, who taught Schneider’s fire s suppression course. “In this block, she hasn’t had any failures nor has she had any objective performance failures. Some students have one failure, some students may fail both areas, but Schneider hasn’t failed any.”
After learning fire fundamentals, working with ladders, using ropes, tying knots, fire suppression, HAZMAT and aircraft fires, Schneider graduated from the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy on August 20th.
Schneider will return to her home unit at the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield, Ohio where her home unit eagerly awaits her return.
“We are nothing but proud and happy for Airman Schneider,” said Senior Master Sgt. Bradly Brammer, 179th Airlift Wing deputy fire chief in Mansfield, Ohio. “We are glad she represented us well and we are excited to get her back and learn from her experiences. We are eager to see what the future holds for her.”
Schneider also looks forward to this new chapter in her life.
“It was always a dream of mine to serve our country,” said Schneider. “I am extremely excited to be a firefighter, it’s the best job in the world, and to be a part of something bigger, the Air Force.”