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New Recruiting Leaders See Success Ahead Despite Challenges

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Robert Pilch

As the ambitious mission comes into focus for two, newly assigned senior leaders for Air Force Reserve Recruiting, the successful path ahead could not be clearer despite the challenges clouding the current recruiting environment.

It is no secret that recruiting the future Reserve force has experienced a few setbacks and faced several speed bumps over the past couple of years. A global pandemic, a tight labor market and a diminishing qualified youth population are just a few of the factors contributing to this perfect storm. However, these obstacles in no way stifle the energy and enthusiasm packed into this dynamic duo.

Chief Master Sgt. Courtney W. Strickler, the senior enlisted leader for the 367th Recruiting Group, could not be more ready for what lies ahead as she settles into her new position.

“I thrive in chaos,” Strickler said, describing the current environment. “I am solution-oriented, a fixer. I guess I get this from my days working in maintenance. However, there’s challenges that are outside of the recruiting realm. My goal is to help move recruiting forward to where recruiters don’t necessarily feel what is going on at the top so we don’t skip a beat.”

After taking the helm just over a month ago, Col. Michelle M. Coumbs, 367th RCG commander, echoed Strickler’s sentiments and is ready for both the challenges and opportunities the team has yet to get after.

“Despite working some later hours, I come in every day pumped,” Coumbs said. “There are challenges, but lots of opportunities. I feel an abundance of support from senior leadership and am grateful they recognize the critical environment we are operating in.”

With propensity to serve among young people aged 17 to 24 hovering near 9%, a decrease from the historic average of between 10% and 12%, Coumbs touched on some of the external roadblocks her team faces as it tries to move the needle forward in attracting new talent.

“Interest in serving is at an all-time low and we’re looking at trying to drive a whole-of-government mobilization to support recruiting,” she said. “I feel like we are starting to see more of our military and senior government leaders recognize that we need to restore national pride in serving and tout the benefits of service.”

“We are going to focus on ethos and revisit some of our foundational concepts we may have gotten away from, and dust off a few things,” said Strickler as she expanded on her and Coumbs’ strategy ahead. “We need to look at things with a new, innovative lens.”

Coumbs and Strickler are not new to the recruiting environment and have extensive backgrounds that have prepared them for their roles to lead the more than 400 people across four squadrons tasked with attracting future Reserve Citizen Airmen.

“I was a maintainer for many years and eventually took on the role as a maintenance career adviser,” Strickler said. “I then went to work within a directorate with the Air Force Personnel Center involving bonuses, incentives and education. I was also involved with accessions, so I always had little interfaces with recruiting.”

“For me, this is one of the noblest of missions,” said Coumbs, who served in two previous recruiting positions earlier in her career. “This is an opportunity to change people’s lives and give them an added purpose. This job is so much fun. It just fuels you and the purpose is fulfilling.”

While attracting new talent is always at the cornerstone of recruiting, the Reserve’s goal is to capture a blend of 70% prior-service and 30% non prior-service members. Additionally, retaining talent is another piece of the recruiting puzzle.

“One of my favorite things I learned while sitting day two in the seat was how we came up with our goaling,” Strickler said. “I was a bit taken aback as to how we got to this year’s number of 9,300 recruits versus our manning ability to deliver on this figure. This is where the retention piece came in and became my a-ha moment. We have to start getting education and information back to the wings in order to identify trends and minimize talented members from simply walking out the door. Retention is a critical part of the end-strength equation.”

Boots-on-the-ground recruiters alone cannot carry the entire load of generating interest, attracting qualified candidates to serve and meeting end-strength for tomorrow’s Air Force, Coumbs said.

“We are asking every serving member to support us, as we are all recruiters,” said Coumbs, as she tied in one of the internal marketing efforts to attract talent from individuals who currently wear the uniform. “WEAR is a program that encourages Airmen to share their experiences within their communities and with their friends and family members. We want our service members to share their positive stories and the benefits the Air Force Reserve has provided them and their families. This helps our team and augments our force.”

“What our Airmen can do now is to embrace being ambassadors for the Air Force Reserve at every opportunity,” Strickler said. “Also, downloading and leveraging the Aim High app in order to connect prospects with local recruiters.”

Adding to the arsenal of resources to help promote and amplify Reserve recruiting efforts is the continuance of the Total Force recruiting integration with the active-duty and Air National Guard components.

“I think this initiative is going very well,” Coumbs said. “This is a massive culture change and paradigm shift between all components. Everyone is bringing genuine concern and effort to support one another as we start to normalize. The sharing of resources and institutional knowledge are key to future successes going forward.”

In addition to seeking qualified talent for the 200-plus jobs across the Reserve landscape, Coumbs and Strickler said they are actively seeking motivated Airmen to fill the life-changing role of being a recruiter.

“Go talk to your nearest recruiter and let them know of your interest and to see if it’s a good fit,” Coumbs said. “I just want to say that ‘easy’ is not in the job description. However, ‘fun’ and ‘purpose’ are in the job description. I don’t know about everybody else, but I am looking for a purposeful and fulfilling day … and you’re going to get that from us.”

“We want to see our staff and technical sergeants come aboard sooner, as we have developed a better path for them in regards to upward progression within recruiting,” Strickler said. “Also, bring your energy, an open mind and positive attitude. Hands-down, our recruiters are some of the most talented people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

(Pilch is assigned to the 367th RCG as the Public Affairs NCOIC.)