First female Air National Guard fire chief deploys

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Kevin Coulter
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
While there have been many female firsts in the Department of Defense over the years which include Gen. Ann Dunwoody's four-star promotion in 2008, women continue to be promoted into positions never before help by females across the military.

Senior Master Sgt. Deanne Criswell joined the ranks when she became the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard fire chief in 2002, adding to the COANG's long list of firsts in its heritage. The position also made her the first female fire chief in the entire Air National Guard.

While this is a historic achievement, her current duties are equally impressive. Criswell is currently deployed to the Middle East as the Air Force's Forward Functional Fire Manager.

Although it seems a pretty simple title, the duties associated with it are quite expansive. Criswell is the Air Force's eyes and ears for over 500 firefighters, who are scattered across 16 bases and multiple Forward Operating Bases in nine different countries.

Criswell's responsibilities are so encompassing, one might think the position would include a large support staff. However her office consists of a laptop, a rucksack, body armor and a side arm.

Criswell is constantly on the move across Central Command's area of responsibility. A few times she has traveled with a seven-person safety-team, but she usually travels alone to meet with firefighters wherever they may be. To get there, she catches rides on Air Force cargo planes, Army helicopters, coalition transports, or hitch-hikes on convoys that are headed where she needs to go. "I throw my three day pack on, and it's been known to last me eleven days," said Criswell.

As operations draw down in Iraq, Criswell has been busy shifting and redeploying assets to Afghanistan. She says her brief tour has already stretched her leadership abilities beyond what she ever expected. Her list of accomplishments read like years of super-star work, but it's all been done in just four months.

She's provided oversight for two firefighter training academies, supervised the transition of five bases and repositioned assets all over the Middle East. Recently, she deployed 12 firefighters and their equipment to a remote Forward Operating Base, ensuring a C-17 capable runway in just 96 hours. She also made a realignment recommendation which is estimated to save the government 9 million dollars in contractor costs.

Criswell says the heat and operations tempo has been taxing. She's looking forward to returning home and relaxing - but only for a while. She recently completed a half marathon and is training to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. this October. She's run 14 miles in Kyrgyzstan, 10 miles at a small forward operating base in Afghanistan and a half marathon in Qatar, to name a few. "She often times get up at 3 in the morning to run when it's coolest. She's crazy," said her husband, Chief Master Sgt. John Criswell.

Criswell has been a Guardsman her entire career. "I haven't regretted a minute of it," she said. Like so many, she enlisted in the Air National Guard to help pay for college, and she wanted to do something different. But, that decision 19 years ago has paid off with more than a part-time job. She also met her husband in the Colorado Air National Guard who currently serves as the command chief of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard.