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Recruiting steady despite COVID-19 challenges

Man holds hand up to take the Oath of Enlistment.

Craig Anderson, U.S. Air Force enlistee, takes the Oath of Enlistment at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, July 8, 2021. Combat Aviation Advisors, civil engineers, and security forces members have open billets at the 919th Special Operations Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dylan Gentile)

Airman in blues leans on desk while explaining a document to a civilian sitting across from her.

Tech. Sgt. Amy Busenbark, 351st Recruiting Squadron recruiter, explains an enlistment form to Craig Anderson, U.S. Air Force enlistee at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, July 8, 2021. Recruiters devised new methods such as conducting enlistments virtually to keep recruiting numbers steady despite challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dylan Gentile)

Civilian leans on desk over two documents and asks Airman in blues questions while his partner and child wait in background.

Craig Anderson, U.S. Air Force enlistee, asks Tech. Sgt. Amy Busenbark, 351st Recruiting Squadron recruiter, questions about the Air Force while his family watches at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, July 8, 2021. Recruiting figures stayed steady throughout the fiscal year despite challenges brought on by the pandemic. (U.S Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dylan Gentile)

DUKE FIELD, Fla. --

Recruiters throughout the Florida Panhandle faced unexpected challenges with the recent pandemic, but found innovative ways to usher in recruits to fill the 919th Special Operations Wing’s vacant positions.

 

“The 919th SOW has a number of career opportunities that are still available,” said Master Sgt. Kyle Hauser, 351st Recruiting Squadron in-service recruiter at Eglin Air Force Base. “As with previous years, this is a very busy season for recruiting.”

Those looking to join the unit will find opportunities in a variety of career fields to include Combat Aviation Advisors, civil engineers and security forces.

“It’s been a challenging year,” said Senior Master Sgt. Luis Vallejo, 351st Recruiting Squadron senior recruiter at Duke Field. “We ran into issues getting into schools and other places, but at the end of the day we still took care of business and kept putting people into the Air Force Reserve.”

The recruiters began virtual oaths over services such as Zoom or Facetime. They also started using the digital Air Force Commission and Enlistment Portal to collect and process paperwork. This system allowed new recruits to process into the military without in-person meetings.

“We’ve made some major breakthroughs technologically,” said Hauser. “It makes sense. If they already know they want to join, then why should they have to drive an hour to see a recruiter?”

Recruiters’ efforts towards going digital, making the process easier and more appealing for a younger audience, combined with the uncertainty of the pandemic led people to explore what unique opportunities the Air Force has to offer. Despite the obstacles, the recruiting team at Duke Field expects to achieve their goals for the year.

Tthe recruiters have also been able to retain many members this year in critical career fields by transitioning them into the Reserve thanks to initiatives such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill. 

“We work hand in hand with CAAs and security forces folks coming off of active duty,” said Vallejo. “We work hard to ensure we’re providing fully qualified candidates [to squadrons in the 919th SOW.]”

While new efforts kept recruiting numbers steady despite the pandemic, Vallejo believes the most effective recruiting tool is word of mouth.

“What’s really useful for the Air Force is for members currently serving to tell their stories to people in the community,” said Hauser. “Your personal testimonies are very valuable.”

The 919th SOW is the only Reserve wing with CAA and Deployed Aircraft Ground Response Element capabilities. This offers an opportunity for active-duty Air Commandos to continue using their skills for these specialized missions if they choose to transition to the reserve.

Anyone who is interested in supporting the unique mission set the 919th SOW has to offer is encouraged to contact the recruiting office at 850-883-6385.