During his two-year career with the Riverside Fire Department, firefighter/paramedic Alex Whitten has been trained to save lives and respond to emergencies. On Monday, he took that a step further when he reports to Fort Sill, Okla., to begin basic training in the U.S Army.

The 25-year-old North Riverside resident begins his 10-week boot camp today, fulfilling a promise he made to himself when he started training as a paramedic several years ago.

“I always told myself that when I was done with paramedic school I would join the service,” said Whitten, a 2005 graduate of Downers Grove South High School. “I’ve always wanted to join the military.”

Whitten graduated from paramedic school last August and has worked as a paid-on-call firefighter with the department. Most recently, he was one of the firefighters who responded to a car crash on East Burlington Street that resulted in a woman being seriously injured.

Although he toyed with joining the Marines out of high school, Whitten attended College of DuPage. It was there he learned, through his roommate, that Riverside was looking for part-time firefighter candidates.

He didn’t wait too long after obtaining his paramedic certification to join the U.S. Army Reserve.

“I signed the contract to join the military in February 2011,” he said.

Following 10 weeks of basic training, Spec. Whitten will ship out to Fort Sam Houston, in Texas, for 16 weeks of training as an Army medic. Eventually, he’ll be attached to a medical company based in Hobart, Ind.

Whitten will spend six years on active reserve, which means he’ll probably end up overseas at some point.

“I’ve been told to expect to be deployed,” Whitten said. His future unit has deployed overseas previously, Whitten added.

“I’m really excited,” Whitten said. “Ever since I went up to MEPS [Military Entrance Processing Station], I was ready to go. A lot of guys have to wait six or five months before they have to report. I got pretty lucky.”

After he finishes his basic and medic training – and until he does get orders to deploy overseas – Whitten will be back on the job in Riverside, though he’ll spend one weekend a month training, along with one extended training exercise each year.

Whitten said he joined because he wanted to challenge himself.

“You can’t test yourself better than basic training,” he said, “and the leadership training will benefit my career in the future.”