TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A maintenance supervisor in the 507th Air Refueling Wing here was crowned champion in the History Channel’s bladesmithing competition show, Forged in Fire, October 23, 2019.
A member of the 507th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron since 2009, Master Sgt. Casey Cleveland is also an amateur bladesmith.
Forged in Fire features four bladesmiths who are faced with a smithing challenge and a fixed amount of time to accomplish the task. During his episode, Cleveland and the other competitors were asked to “Frankenstein” a blade, which is a term used to describe creating a new weapon by taking the blade of one knife and the handle of another.
“[The show] was intense,” Cleveland said. “I just had to go in there and pretend that it was my forge and get to work.”
Cleveland’s journey towards smithing blades began with a chance encounter with the Saltfork Craftsman, Blacksmith and Artisan Association in 2015. He instantly became interested in bladesmithing, which is the art of turning raw metal and other materials into knives, blades and axes.
Cleveland said he has smithed more than 150 blades since then and has created everything from small camping knives to machetes, katanas and axes. Co-workers and family alike admire his craftsmanship and the opportunity to have something custom made, he said.
Eventually, Cleveland’s hobby began to teach him skills which could be applied to other arenas of his life. He credits bladesmithing for helping him improve as a Reserve Citizen Airman.
“Bladesmithing has helped me as an aircraft mechanic,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about patience and keeping my cool under pressure and in dangerous conditions.”
507th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Operations Officer and Cleveland’s supervisor of more than two years, Capt. Adrian Mack, said that Cleveland’s high energy, positivity and bladesmithing skills makes him a guy you want on your team.
“Being a bladesmith requires a tremendous amount of attention to detail,” Mack said. “I believe he brings this quality with him as a flightline expeditor, which is important to our mission and our Airmen’s safety.”
Cleveland’s quality of work and expertise led him to want to show the world what he could do.
Cleveland applied to be on the show Forged in Fire, because he was determined to show off his skills. After not hearing anything for a while, he applied to the show’s spinoff, Knife or Death, where he was able to showcase his blades in a cutting competition.
After Knife or Death, he applied again for Forged in Fire, and his perseverance landed him a spot in the show.
After the show was all said and done, Cleveland looked back at his experience fondly.
“My experience on Forged in Fire has been life-changing, and I couldn't have done it without the support of all my family and friends. Following your dreams doesn’t happen overnight; you’ve got to work at it and learn from your failures and then grow from your experiences."
Cleveland hopes that one day he will be able to forge his hobby into a profession. He teaches classes and makes custom orders for his family and friends.
“Someday, hopefully, I can get my name and products out there; then maybe I can start doing this full time and make a job out of it.”