Same Air Force, new recruiting

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Grace Thomson
  • 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIR RESERVE STATION, Pa. – Imagine you are graduating from high school and all you want to do is join the military. You were planning on meeting with an Air Force recruiter when you turned 18 right after graduation, but now it seems impossible because of the pandemic and you have no idea how to join.


You ask yourself, how will you take the oath of enlistment, or sign the papers, and how is basic training going to work? Thankfully, the 911th Airlift Wing Recruiting Flight has taken the time to gather guidance on how their job will operate during this pandemic and how best to help you with your goal.


“The mission must go on right,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christopher P. Flynn, chief of the 911th AW Recruiting Flight. “We still need to meet the approximately 70,000 [people] in strength and not only is retention a big part of that, but recruiting is a huge part of that.”


There have been many changes to the routine at the 911th AW but many career fields are able to get their work done at relatively the same pace with the precautions in place. The recruiting office is not so fortunate and has had to restructure their whole setup in order to keep up. Even then, their numbers still went down.


“Things were really stagnant in April and the better part of May,” said Flynn. “They started to pick up slightly in June.”


Before the pandemic, they relied on face-to-face meetings, job fairs, school visits and more to recruit the next generation of Airmen. But all of that is a thing in the past now.


Virtual meetings, online job fairs, and secure video chat oath of enlistments are just some of the ways that recruiting has accommodated for COVID-19.


“Tech Sgt. [Jeremiah] Murphy, one of the recruiters here, hosted an online job fair, which was a first,” said Flynn. “That was not over a video camera, it was a chat room, people logged into a website and would click on the Air Force Reserve logo and they could chat with him online. He got about 50 leads from that event.”


Pittsburgh is a hard area to recruit in generally, said Flynn, and oftentimes recruiters venture out beyond Pittsburgh. Normally this is not an issue, but with COVID-19 it could cause some problems.


“We have applicants that live almost as far as Harrisburg, Altoona, Morgantown, West Virginia, and even further south,” said Flynn. “Having those people cross pollinate, so to speak, is not always ideal. I leave it up to the recruiters as to whether or not they're going to hold face to face meetings or if they want to hold secure video teleconferences.”


Master Sgt. Christopher A. Beck, recruiter with the 911th AW Recruiting Flight, said that they “mostly meet with applicants initially via Facetime and Zoom,” then they wear masks and distance as much as possible when they have to meet in person.

Even with these precautions, it has been difficult to get people to talk to a recruiter, both Flynn and Beck mentioned.

“We are losing qualified applicants because they are uncertain about the pandemic,” said Beck. “It’s been very difficult; we are not able to access potential recruits the way we used to.”


Meeting with a recruiter is a great way to get involved in the Air Force Reserve but they aren’t the only way to start a journey. There is also an app called “Share Your Adventure” where any military member can recommend a person to the Air Force Reserve.


“This is a great way for reservists to refer friends and family and they don't have to come see the recruiter face to face,” said Flynn. “We want the best qualified members whether they're non prior service or if they've been in other service branches, we are actively hiring. So, if somebody is looking for a job this is a good time.”


The “Share Your Adventure” app is not being used to its full extent and with the COVID-19 pandemic happening, it has become even more difficult to recruit in person.


Before COVID-19, recruiters had relationships with the public that help them get into certain places such as schools, job fairs, and churches, but that is not possible anymore.


“It's extremely important that the recruiters are able to maintain those relationships with the community,” said Flynn. “That's been the biggest challenge.”


Another challenge that they face is being able to conduct the oath of enlistment. In person enlistments must be socially distanced with masks on to ensure the safety of everyone involved. But getting people to come from other states or regions to take the oath is becoming more difficult as certain places become hotspots for the virus.


Air Force active duty was able to conduct virtual oaths of enlistment before the Reserve or National Guard, making recruiting harder for the rest of the Total Force. This was amended recently, and it gave Total Force recruiters the ability to conduct more meetings virtually as well as keep personnel and applicants safe during the enlistment process.


This change, while very small, made it much easier to get the paperwork done during the pandemic and ensures that the process is as safe as possible be for everyone involved.


This change has already been put into action at the 911th AW and it went smoothly all things considered.


“The applicant had separated from active duty but had not yet moved back to Pittsburgh, and he was in Nevada,” said Flynn. “I was here in Pittsburgh, and the officer was in Ohio. So, we all got on a video conference call and had the virtual enlistment. Then I just emailed the appropriate documents securely to the officer and the applicant for signatures.”


That was just one of the obstacles that they had to overcome though; others include sending people to the Military Entrance Processing Station.


They are not allowed to send people every day like they used to. Now it is one person on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. It has been causing quite a few delays according to Flynn and has frustrated the recruiters as well as applicants.


Basic Military Training has also changed quite a bit with COVID-19 restrictions. Keesler Air Force Base, located in Mississippi, has started to host BMT to accommodate social distancing requirements. Flynn said that Total Force military members will continue to go to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas while their active duty counterparts might be diverted to Keesler.


Members going to basic training and technical school are quarantined for the first two weeks before training and classes start. Masks and socially distancing are required during training now and the facilities have taken all precautions necessary to ensure that trainees are safe and healthy.


While all of these new restrictions may be hard to adjust to, the Air Force has done all that it can to slow the spread of COVID-19 while still keeping the mission a priority. They have put policies in place that put the safety and health of Airmen first but the mission must always go on.


People first, mission always.