MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Alabama --
Air Force Recruiting Service’s Detachment 1 rolled out the red carpet for a host of potential Air Force pilots at an Aim High Outreach event here November 15.
AFRS Det. 1 was established in October 2018 to conceive and implement innovative programs supporting Total Force (active-duty Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve) recruiting efforts. It focuses on pre-accession audiences (youths, young adults and their influencers) and works with partners to provide pathways to accession sources such as the Air Force Academy, Reserve Officer Training Corps and Officer Training School.
Det. 1 is also the tactical execution arm of the chief of staff of the Air Force’s Rated Diversity Improvement initiative.
The Aim High Outreach program focuses on youth engagement, community outreach and professional development and networking to encourage diversity among new Air Force pilots.
“The event went extremely well,” said Lt. Col. Cathyrine Armandie, Det. 1 commander. “Even though the weather didn’t cooperate, we were able to mentor 120 cadets from across the Southeast and send 85 cadets on incentive rides. For some of the kids, it was their very first time on a plane ever. We are so happy to be able to share that experience with them.”
One of the keys to these outreach events is having quality mentors who can share their stories with the students. It’s also important to have a diverse group of mentors so all students can find someone they can relate to.
“We look for mentors who have a passion for their Air Force Specialty Code and want to share their experiences with the next generation,” Armandie said. “Their impact can be profound. We’ve had some high school students come back to let us know they are now ROTC cadets on scholarship after making a connection with a mentor and getting inspired by their experiences.” To be part of the mentorship team, rated officers can go to MyPers and search for the Aviation Recruiting Team Personnel Services Delivery Memorandum.
Before the mentors received some training, Maj. Gen. Brad M. Sullivan, Air University commander, spoke to the group and asked about their stories.
Maj. Boston McClain, an USAFA graduate who currently works at Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon, shared his story.
“I grew up in a small town in South Carolina. We didn’t have much and grew up on a farm,” he said. “My grandfather was a sharecropper with a third grade education. Even though he didn’t have an education, he understood the value of education and what it can do for you.”
McClain said his mother pushed him and his siblings to do well in school and he knew a scholarship was his best chance to get out of his hometown.
“Sometimes you grow up in small towns and people who don’t have diverse experiences tend to have closed minds,” he said. “I remember being in high school and the KKK burned a cross in our yard and I didn’t really understand what was going on. I remember my granddad pulling us aside and saying ‘hey, you can do whatever you want. You don’t have to be a product of your environment.’ That really resonated with me and encouraged me to work that much harder to be an example that you can get out and do anything you want to do.”
He said the Air Force has given him a worldly perspective that will set his sons and family up for future generational success.
“That is why I make it a point to mentor others,” the major said. “Representation matters and diversity matters. You never know how you can be a life giving presence to someone else.”
Although Det. 1 is a new entity, there are young people who have decided to make the Air Force a career based on their experiences with an outreach event.
“We reconnected with a young lady at this event who was an original attendee of the ACE Solo Flight Program. She is now on an ROTC scholarship and well on her way to becoming an Air Force pilot,” Armandie said.
The Air Force Aviation, Character and Education Solo Flight Program, which began in 2018, is a unique science, technology, engineering and math-focused summer program designed to motivate and mentor minorities and women to pursue aerospace careers with an emphasis on Air Force opportunities.
Praise Wright, a current ROTC student at Tuskegee University in Alabama, attended the first ACE event while she was still in high school in 2018.
“I was only able to be part of ACE because of a mentor I had back in Chicago. She mentors young people and minorities to get into aviation,” Wright said. “I went to an event outside of Dover Air Force Base (Delaware), and being around Air Force people for the first time made me want to stick with the Air Force and become a pilot.”
Wright was able to accumulate 10 flight hours at the Dover event and nine more flight hours at an event in Mississippi.
“Growing up, my mom worked for United Airlines and other family members worked for the airlines, but I never thought I was capable of actually flying the aircraft because I had never seen that many females or minorities in the field,” Wright said. “Seeing the Air Force cadre that looks like me and the family atmosphere has me hooked. I don’t want to do anything else. Being in an airplane, I feel like I’m up there with God. There’s nothing else I want to do.”
Having mentors from diverse backgrounds is important as the Air Force strives for more diversity.
“Increasing rated diversity in today’s Air Force can only make us more lethal, better prepared and more innovative as we meet the complex challenges of the 21st century battlespace,” said Lt. Col. Mark Melin, who works at the Air Force Academy in admissions. “We cannot be tied to an attitude of letting a good thing run as is. We need to be flexible and adaptable in order to keep up – be that with changes in industry, with meeting a dynamic economy or with engaging new, asymmetric enemies. Increasing rated diversity is not a PR stunt. It is a real solution to ensure we keep an advantage.”
Young people in America are less informed about the military than ever before, so every chance AFRS and Det. 1 can help education youngsters about opportunities is a win.
“I remember putting on an outreach program at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and a young man saw me in a flight suit and said, ‘Are you a pilot?’” McClain said. “I said, ‘Yes, I am’ and he said, ‘I didn’t know black people could be pilots.’ I told him they could and talked to him about the Tuskegee Airmen. You could just see the pride on his face. It made me want to work that much harder to mentor and mold other people to expose them to something that could be their future.”
“Today was an amazing day,” Georgia Ganster, an ROTC student at Troy University in Alabama, said about the Maxwell Aim High Outreach event. “We got to talk to a lot of officers from different commissioning backgrounds and we got to see how they transitioned from ROTC to active duty. We were able to talk to some lieutenants about how they are preparing for flight training school. I felt like this event was an amazing way to open the eyes for JROTC and ROTC cadets to see what the military has to offer. It’s not just a job, it’s a career and a way to serve.”
The students who received incentive flights at the Aim High Outreach event were able to fly on a C-130 or C-17.
“I want to be a pilot,” Ganster said after her flight on the C-17. “I was thinking C-130s, but after today I’m thinking I might be changing my mind to the C-17.”
Melin said one of the students from the Marion Academy in Tuscaloosa told him after his incentive flight on a C-130 that this is definitely what he wants to do.
Every year, some applicants to the Air Force Academy show potential but fail to gain admission because they need additional academic preparation. The Falcon Foundation provides a limited number of highly motivated students the opportunity to prepare for admission to the Academy by providing scholarships at specially selected civilian junior colleges and preparatory schools in various parts of the nation. The Marion Academy is one of those schools.
“About half of all Air Force Academy graduates go directly to Air Force pilot training. Another 10% will go on to some sort of aircrew-related field,” Melin said. “Pilot training remains an all-volunteer endeavor, so we are very interested in lighting the spark early for highly qualified young men and women who may want to pursue an aviation career. My message at this Aim High event was primarily to let each cadet know that becoming a pilot in today’s Air Force is very possible and, at the same time, very rewarding.”
Det. 1 has executed 74 events in fiscal 2019 and engaged more than 16,500 individuals. Armandie said the message is the same at all events.
“No matter who you are or where you are from, the sky is the limit,” she said. “Don’t let barriers stop you from trying to achieve your dreams. We are working to remove as many barriers as possible for individuals wanting to become rated officers. There is an emphasis on height standards at the moment, which previously limited many of our young women from applying. We want everyone to know, regardless of your gender, race, or even stature, there is a place for you and we need you. We are not a one-size-fits-all Air Force.”