Female Airman poses in uniform with aircraft and firetruck behind her.

Photo by Master Sgt. Joe Harwood, 179th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

For Airman First Class Sophie Tridico, a member of the Fire Protection Unit at the 179th Airlift Wing, her military career has gotten off to a big start, as she graduated Basic Military Training with the distinguished “First Airman” award and the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy as the top student in her technical school.

Airman tops in her class at basic training, DOD Fire Academy

Story by Master Sgt. Joe Harwood, 179th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

COLUMBUS, Ohio (02/22/22)

Aairman First Class Sophie Tridico, a member of the Fire Protection Unit at the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield, Ohio, stepped off the bus at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas on Sept. 22, 2020. Tridico arrived to Basic Military Training during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as one of over 700 masked trainees. By graduation, on Nov. 12, 2020, she would end up standing out amongst all of them.

Tridico not only graduated with honors, but earned the distinguished title of the “First Airman” award recipient, given only to the top BMT honor graduate.

Tridico not only graduated with honors, but earned the distinguished title of the “First Airman” award recipient, given only to the top BMT honor graduate.

To be recognized as an honor graduate in BMT, trainees are evaluated in a number of areas: physical fitness, living area inspections, leadership points and the end of course exam. Typically, 10% of BMT trainees graduate as honor graduates. So it was no small feat to graduate number one among this elite group.

Tridico credits much of her motivation and success to a strong family foundation and heavily competitive spirit. Tridico witnessed her family’s work ethic at a young age. Her grandfather started a family business in 1975 and it has been family-owned and -operated since. Tridico watched her brother, Airman First Class Michael Tridico, a maintenance technician at the 179th Maintenance Group, join first in 2018.

“My older brother is a part of the unit as well, and he was in that top 10% of honor graduates,” Tridico said. “I had to work harder to beat that, of course.” She then went on to graduate at the top of her class at her technical training at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy, located at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas.

The fire academy is home to the DOD Fire Protection Apprentice Course and is host to roughly 17 advanced fire protection courses, including mobile training teams that teach courses to the field. The DOD Fire Academy provides training to all components and branches of the DOD, including uniformed and civilian members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and other organizations. The DOD Fire Academy also trains international students to build partnership capacity in allied nations. Graduates of these courses can be found working on all seven continents of the globe and each military service.

Tridico said that there were not very many females in the fire academy — 14 in total throughout the academy while she was there, and only one other in her class, from the Navy.

“Although the instructors treated us fairly and made it clear that there are policies to protect us and include us as equals, it doesn’t change the dynamics that we’re vastly outnumbered,” Tridico said. “Some male students even voiced their doubts in a female’s abilities when instructors were not around.”

This feeling only motivated her.

“Firefighting is a predominantly male career field in general, and there are always going to be some people who will question if you belong there with them,” Tridico said. “You have to prove to everyone that you do. I would look at whatever the requirements are for what we’re doing and tell myself that not only can I do that, I will do better than that, and I did!”

Another factor in Tridico’s impressive BMT performance was the Student Flight program that prepares Ohio Air National Guard recruits for BMT while they wait for their training dates. The primary purpose is to educate recruits on what to expect. During the pandemic Student Flight courses were conducted online by Master Sgt. Nick Alexander, recruiting office flight chief.

“After spending drill weekends with us at the 179th Airlift Wing Student Flight, our recruits are a step ahead of some of the incoming active-duty members, who might not have learned all of the ranks, chain of command structures, marching, cadence, customs and courtesies in advance to BMT,” Alexander said. “We try to set them up for success here before we send them, but Airman Tridico took it to the next level on her own merits, we’re very proud of her accomplishments and representation of what an Air Guard member can look like.”

The 179th Airlift Wing Fire Department staff is also very proud of her accomplishments in training and confident in her capabilities. So much so that they were ready to give her some real-world experience soon after she returned from training.

“We were having a barbeque over the weekend towards the end of my training and I got a call from our fire chief back at the 179th,” Tridico said. “He told me I was selected to deploy with them for six months overseas (in 2021)! I was really pumped to hear that!”

Chief Master Sgt. Wesley Blair, 179th Airlift Wing fire chief, said it is uncommon for an Airman in the Air National Guard to deploy so quickly after technical training.

“I (was) confident she (would) do a great job,” Blair said. “She (got) some of the best on the job training available, while also getting experience on other aircraft that we are likely to never see here at the 179th.”

Blair said he had not heard of the “First Airman” award before Tridico’s return to the unit. Being how prestigious the award, is it is uncommon to have a unit member with the title.

“It’s extremely impressive,” said Blair said. “I think she has a very bright future ahead of her.”

Tridico has had no problem stepping up to any challenges so far, and says she will continue to give her best efforts wherever her career takes her.

“I’ve always been highly motivated, with a competitive edge, and it keeps me focused on my goals,” Tridico said. “It’s a mindset.”

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