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Falling apples: a firefighter and a first sergeant

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Wesley F. Paver, 182nd Mission Support Group first sergeant, and Airman 1st Class Jared A. Paver, fire protection specialist with the 182nd Civil Engineer Squadron, are seen together at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., Feb. 24, 2014. While one is approaching retirement and the other is just beginning his career, the father and son serve together in Illinois Air National Guard. They are one of several families featured in the wing’s ongoing “Falling Apples” series highlighting parents and children Air National Guardsmen. (U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer/Released)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Wesley F. Paver, 182nd Mission Support Group first sergeant, and Airman 1st Class Jared A. Paver, fire protection specialist with the 182nd Civil Engineer Squadron, are seen together at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., Feb. 24, 2014. While one is approaching retirement and the other is just beginning his career, the father and son serve together in Illinois Air National Guard. They are one of several families featured in the wing’s ongoing “Falling Apples” series highlighting parents and children Air National Guardsmen. (U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer/Released)

PEORIA, Ill. -- When it comes to the expression "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," no irony is lost when Wes and Jared Paver are seen together.

Besides their shaved heads, both father and son have the same rambunctious smile and an air of confidence and approachability. Perhaps it comes from their common background as first responders. More uniquely, both are Illinois Air National Guardsmen stationed together at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill.

When Master Sgt. Wes F. Paver of East Peoria, Ill., enlisted in November 1983, working in law enforcement just felt like a natural fit, he said. His initial plan was to gain experience as a law enforcement specialist in the 182nd Security Police Squadron and then apply to civilian departments.

"The longer I was in, the more I liked it, and I decided to stay," he said.

Sergeant Paver rose through the ranks as his career progressed, becoming a squad leader on drill weekends, a full-time shift supervisor and the base's non-commissioned officer in charge of physical security. Then in November 2009, he received a call to meet with Col. Cory K. Reid, the 182nd Mission Support Group commander.

"In my career as a security supervisor, it was never a good thing to get a phone call to go see the mission support group commander, because it usually meant that I had done something, or somebody that worked for me had done something," Sergeant Paver said.

The meeting, however, turned out to be positive. The group commander asked him to consider becoming his first sergeant, a trusted position responsible for the morale, welfare and conduct of the unit's enlisted airmen. Sergeant Paver applied and was accepted.

He found similarities between being a senior non-commissioned officer, a first sergeant and a parent, both in growing subordinates to their potential and in dealing with life issues.

"If you treat (a kid) like a young adult, they will act like a young adult. If you treat an airman like an airman should be treated, and hold them to a standard, most people rise to that standard," Sergeant Paver said. "Being a first sergeant is very similar to being a parent, because you do deal with a lot of the same types of problems coming across your desk that come across the dining room table."

Meanwhile, over the years the father had brought home to his family the values and discipline instilled in him by the military.

"I've always had a lot of respect for him," said his son, Airman 1st Class Jared A. Paver, a fire protection specialist with the 182nd Civil Engineer Squadron, also from East Peoria. "Now that he's my senior NCO, it's still the same. He's always raised me the same way. I've always had that sort of discipline."

When Airman Paver enlisted in February 2012, he found no difference in his father as a parent versus a service member.

"He's always the same person, he's never different. He's very disciplined, very motivated, in everything that he does," he said.

Likewise, Sergeant Paver described his son as always having been a forward-thinking type of kid who especially excelled in sports. He soon recognized the military potential in his son.

"Early on, I saw some leadership in him as he was moving his way through high school football, track and wrestling," the father said. "I could see the leadership abilities coming out in him."

However, Sergeant Paver believed that not forcing the idea of joining the Armed Forces on him was important. He wanted the decision to enlist to be his son's alone.

"We talked a little bit about it when he was a senior and he wanted to pursue college and possibly go into sports in college. I let him work his own path through life," Sergeant Paver said. "And then finally he came to me and was like, 'Hey, I think I want to join the Guard.'"

Perhaps his father's consistent military character left an impression during Airman Paver's upbringing. The son became a dorm chief in basic military training and then became the class leader at the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy.

Sergeant Paver remembers the first time he saw the 182nd Civil Engineer Squadron's fire trucks responding to an emergency after his son had come home from technical training school.

"All of a sudden I see the fire trucks roll out and I'm like, 'Wow, my kid's probably on one of those.' That's an interesting thought," he said.

After doing seasoning days with the fire department, Airman Paver took a temporary technician job at the Logistics Readiness Squadron to help with their mobility and inventory operations, where he is working full-time for the wing like his father.

Sergeant Paver said the best compliment paid to him was from his son's supply superintendent.

"He said, 'Jared's doing a really good job. He's made a very good name for himself out here,'" the father said. "There's a sense of pride knowing that he's made his own name out here now."

Airman Paver also takes pride in his father and credits him for being a big influence in his life.

"He's always been a leader, whether it's in my personal life or things that I've seen out here at the base with him being first sergeant," he said. "People can come to him for anything, and I hear from people all the time (saying), 'Hey, I love your dad.'"

No matter how busy things get during the duty day, the Pavers make a point to check up on each daily to see how the other is doing. The concept of a family in uniform is something that Airman Paver found to be consistent throughout the entire wing.

"At the base Christmas party I got to see how big of a family this wing is," he said. "It's not just working with a bunch of people. The 182nd is one giant family. The 182nd is an outstanding wing."

Similarly, his father said he enjoys working at the wing because of the unit members' professionalism and the constant "get the job done" attitude he sees in members of all ranks.

Both Pavers recommend potential recruits make the decision to serve for themselves, and not to join just to follow a parent's footsteps.

"No matter what we do in the military, you may be asked to give your life for your country. So, it's a decision I think each person must come upon themselves," said Sergeant Paver.

His son agreed. "Don't join until you're ready," he said.

However, they were both quick to describe what a great choice joining the Illinois Air National Guard was for them.

"It's one of the best career moves I've made. I really enjoy what I do for a living," said the father.

"I'd tell (a recruit) it's the best decision of his life," Airman Paver said. "It's the smartest thing you can do, being out here at this wing."

While Airman 1st Class Paver is just beginning his military profession, Master Sgt. Paver is approaching the end of his more than 30-year career. They stand as one of the many examples of multi-generational families at the base, and show how family relationships can add to the unit's atmosphere while serving its state and federal missions.

Editor's note: "Falling Apples" is an ongoing series highlighting parents and children Air National Guardsmen stationed together at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill.