Sitting in his office at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Master Sgt. Christopher Dooley’s ears perk up, his heart pounds faster and the adrenalin begins to rush as a fire truck races across the academy’s grounds, its sirens and horns filling his office with a familiar echo. A 17-year firefighter, Dooley’s first instinct is to leave his desk; but he doesn’t. There are 107 cadets of the Bull 6 Squadron who need him right where he is.
“I’m not used to hearing the sirens and not being on that truck,” Dooley said. “I itch when I hear them. I feel I have to be doing something to help.”
These days, Dooley’s help comes in a different form. He is now an academy military training noncommissioned officer , meaning he is the principal advisor to the Air Officer Commanding for a cadet squadron on all issues of health, esprit de corps, discipline, mentoring, well-being, progression, recognition and development, while providing general supervision of all cadets.
Dooley was selected for the position through the Developmental Special Duty process, which provides commanders an opportunity to nominate their best Airmen to fill critical Air Force positions of mentoring and molding future leaders, while providing a developmental career path for the selectee.
“It was tough leaving the firehouse,” Dooley said. “It’s painful because you build friendships and kinships with fire dogs that are unlike anywhere else in the Air Force. To leave it all hurts.”
Dooley understood the needs of the Air Force outweighed his own. He also understood leaving the fire career field for his three year DSD commitment likely meant his days of putting on a fire suit would be numbered.
So, he instead brought a bit of the firehouse to his cadet squadron.
“Our squadron mentality falls in line with the firefighter career field with everything you do needs to be for the Airman next to you,” said Dooley. “Our squadron is Bull 6 and the motto is ‘For the Bulls.’ Everything needs to focus on the squadron. Everything you do is for the Bulls. If you’re going to violate standards, you need to understand how that affects the Bulls.”
The responsibility of molding future leaders isn’t lost on Dooley either. To him, this is the most significant impact he has on the cadets.
Dooley tells cadets, in the Air Force, at any moment their lives or someone else’s could be on the line. He asks if they are willing to give their lives for someone to ensure his or her safety, and explains this is the mentality needed to be a leader in the Air Force.
Dooley admitted he also brings a little bit of the “rah, rah” A-type personality of the firedogs to the squadron. He does everything in the squadron with enthusiasm and with motivation, especially in athletics.
“He’s electrifying. At morning accountability formations we’re sluggish, but when he’s there, he’s loud and letting us know he’s there,” Cadet 1st Class Denzel Jones said of Dooley. “He always provides the morning motivation.”
There is a genuine method to Dooley’s enthusiasm and demeanor. It’s also the same reason his office is outfitted with a basketball hoop set, a bowl full of candy and his walls are decorated from top to bottom.
“Everything is an ice breaker. I want these cadets to feel comfortable approaching me or walking into my office,” said Dooley. “The hardest part of my job is breaking barriers with these cadets where they understand they can come to me and talk. I can tell they want to talk, they just don’t know how to.”
“They see the rope on my arm and they straighten up, but I don’t want to scare them away.” Master Sgt. Christopher Dooley
Dooley explained two-way communication is crucial for AMTs and cadets. Many cadets are extremely smart and high achievers. Cadets assume they don’t need help or they can figure things out on their own and sometimes it can be late in the process before they seek help.
“I want to be looked at as more than just the standards police,” Dooley said. “They see the rope on my arm and they straighten up, but I don’t want to scare them away.”
Dooley’s goal is to take time to get to know the cadets, listen to them and let them know they’re not just another face in the crowd. He can see on the cadets’ faces this means the world to them.
“AMTs are like first sergeants on steroids,” Dooley said. “We are mentors, big brothers and sisters and sometimes a parent laying down the law. You come to work every day with a set schedule, an agenda, but a cadet can walk in and say ‘My Dad just passed away’ and everything goes away, everything clears off your table. Now you are taking care of the cadet and making sure the squadron rallies around that cadet.”
Dooley compared similarities between AMT life and the firefighter career field in the sense he never knew what he was getting in to when the fire bell rang. The same can be said when a cadet walks through his door.
“You know, in this job the number one priority is to take care of the cadets, so there will be long hours. But the reward of seeing them grow is worth it,” Dooley said.
Dooley’s dedication and demeanor have an impact on his cadets, too.
“Master Sergeant Dooley is the most professional and comforting personality to be around, he makes me nervous to be a lieutenant and I mean nervous in a good way,” Jones said. “When I think of a person that is always of top of everything, I think of Master Sergeant Dooley. I can’t express the impact he’s made on me. He makes me want to be better for the squadron and the Airmen around me.”
Jones added the cadets trusted Dooley from day one – just by the way he came into the squadron and set the standard.
“I think my leadership rubs off on them a lot,” Dooley said. “My cadets tell me I have a unique swagger. I’m still trying to figure that one out.”
According to Dooley, cadets say they try to emulate the way he carries himself and the way he interacts with them with the cadets under them.
“They understand that you don’t always have to be the hammer and you don’t always have to be the feather, there is a balance,” said Dooley. “At the same time you have to set the standard and let someone know where they went wrong.”
For Dooley, becoming an AMT has been a blessing in disguise. He’s learned that leadership positions allow him to give back, which can be just as exciting as being in a firehouse. He would now like to become a first sergeant after this assignment.
“They understand that you don’t always have to be the hammer and you don’t always have to be the feather, there is a balance.” Master Sgt. Christopher Dooley
“It’s rewarding when I leave to go home each night. I know I don’t have to worry about my cadets. I know business will be handled and nothing crazy or stupid will happen,” Dooley said. “My cadets get it.”
This year Dooley will be leaving Bull 6 and moving up to a staff position with the wing. But he doesn’t plan on saying goodbye to his new cadet family.
“You can count on me coming back to this unit to check on my cadets and help guide my replacement,” he said.