“I never saw anyone that looked like me piloting an aircraft before I joined the Air Force,” said Capt. Jarod Washington, 86th Fighter Training Squadron instructor pilot, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, who just joined the Air Force’s first aviation recruiting team with 300 other rated officers to help change that dynamic for America’s youth.
Air Force Recruiting Service’s Detachment 1 held their first two-day training course for the team Feb. 2-3 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. They will continue to offer the courses until every selectee from the Air Force’s three components are trained.
This new total force recruiting program is specifically designed to help reach the goals of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s Rated Diversity Improvement initiatives. A call for nomination packages was distributed at the end of 2019 with the hopes to use rated officers as recruiting force multipliers at AFRS outreach and engagement activities designed to increase aviation diversity and support youth aviation awareness.
“We want people to know there are opportunities available,” said Maj. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, AFRS commander. “We want to increase an interest in aviation overall and support (the) CSAF’s specific guidance for rated career fields in the Air Force.”
During the training, rated officers learned the AFRS mission, the latest in total force recruiting and the data to support a need for greater awareness. After a drastic decline in 16-24 year olds with a parent who served in the military from 40% in 1995 to 14% in 2018, it seems apparent why 52% of parents would not recommend military service to their children. The hope is the ART team will help overturn the national trend of military misconceptions by providing a familiarity with military service lacking in American society today.
Capt. Mike Billups, 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron pilot, Offutt AFB, Nebraska, also grew up watching airshows at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. While he was there with his dad, he thought it was cool to meet pilots, but he never thought he could be one until he watched the movie “The Tuskegee Airmen” when he was eight years old. However, he still opted to become a teacher after he completed college and moved out of his impoverished neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
His background inspired him to make a difference by joining a non-profit organization who recruits teachers for low income schools. As an educator, Billups already began to recognize how children looked up to him as a successful professional, something they were unfamiliar with given their circumstances. Now, he still sees that same awe happen when youth look at him in his flight suit.
“I’ll be out and about in my uniform, minding my own business, when I catch a kid’s attention,” Billups said. “I’m a black pilot in a world where we need more exposure to different backgrounds.”
When Washington’s mom met up with her son while he was on temporary duty, she took photos and brought them back to show neighbors. It exposed a possibility many at their small town never thought possible. The photographs sparked many questions from young people.
“There are many more qualified that can be in a cockpit,” Washington said. “I’m helping people be inspired to do what I do just by being there.”
All it takes is for that conversation to happen, and that is the primary role of the ART at Det. 1’s recruiting events.
According to Capt. Tyler Todd, 47th Student Squadron instructor, Laughlin AFB, Texas, becoming an Air Force pilot was completely opposite of what his young rocket engineering mind could fathom until he and his dad had a conversation with a Civil Air Patrol member at a fast food restaurant.
“Once I had the hands-on experience and a taste of flight, I looked into the U.S. Air Force Academy,” Todd said. “Before that, I had a collection of model rockets and never thought I’d leave the ground as an engineer.”
The officers not only share the excitement of their unique paths to becoming Airmen, they also know the challenges of getting a rated position in the Air Force. There are many accession paths to becoming an Air Force officer, like college Reserve Officer Training Corps or the U.S. Air Force Academy. AFRS only accessions 10% of the service’s rated position openings during several Officer Training School boards annually.
“The dream isn’t easy, you got to want it and stick to it if it is worth having,” said Billups, who waited two years for a slot to open up at Officer Training School. He took the first rated position available to him as a weapons systems officer for the B-1 bomber before working his way to his current pilot slot.
That is the grit and determination AFRS said they are looking for in future qualified candidates along with physical strength, mental strength and moral character.
“Find those people and then find the best match for our Air Force,” Leavitt said. “Whether that be full or part time, in or out of uniform. That includes active, Guard, Reserve as well as officer, enlisted and civilian. What we want to do is recruit to the Air Force, not to specific accession sources.”
Being the leader of AFRS, the first female Air Force fighter pilot and an advisor behind the scenes of Captain Marvel, Leavitt has witnessed first-hand the positive impact of sharing her Air Force story.
During ART training, the commander shared her story about a high school student named Emily, who said she was going to go to the academy and become a fighter pilot like her. She said this a year after hearing the general speak at her school’s graduation in her junior year. Emily graduated as valedictorian and was accepted to all three military academies.
“It is the power of seeing and believing,” Leavitt said. “If someone that looks like me did that, I can totally do that. That is an important message. By just getting out there and engaging, you will see the difference you can make. You’ll have a lasting impact.
“We have amazing recruiters you’ll get to know who are out there changing lives,” Leavitt said. “It is an incredible mission. This is the future. It is a lot of fun to engage with America’s youth. They are very interactive. Have fun, tell your story and pass on the recruiting story to other Airmen.”
Since its inception in October 2018, Det. 1 has participated in more than 100 outreach events, including college and career fairs, aviation expos, airshows, Junior ROTC, Civil Air Patrol flight academies and national aviation conventions. Their partnerships with these organizations continue to grow and the opportunities for the ART to engage are expanding. They plan to have a 25% increase in events in 2020.