Potential recruits recently immersed themselves in a South Dakota National Guard unit, riding on rafts, participating in a paintball match against soldiers and donning life vests to witness closeup how engineering soldiers build water bridges.
“Probably, the No. 1 question I get asked is, ‘What do they do?’’ said Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Flemming, a South Dakota Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention noncommissioned officer. “I can sit here and read out of a regulation what a 12-Charlie bridge crew member does. Or, I can take them, and they can meet soldiers who are doing the job and see what it takes to accomplish their mission.”
Since January 2021, Flemming has reimagined the 153rd Engineer Battalion’s annual field training event to incorporate possible recruits from her area of responsibility in Huron, South Dakota.
At the “153rd Guard Experience,” youths are exposed to more than 25 military occupational specialties and have access to more than 480 soldiers – like those from the 200th Engineer Company, 211th Engineer Company (Mobility Augmentation Company) and Black Hawk medical evacuation mission.
Sgt. 1st Class Todd Fuerst has been recruiting for the South Dakota ARNG for about eight years and said these events are about more than just recruiting. They’re also about building relationships in the community.
“It increases the factor of them seeing us and the things we do outside of their classroom where we’re just giving a presentation of information,” Fuerst said. “It’s this one-on-one time that we can actually talk and interact with them in a fun environment and have a good time.”
The Army National Guard in South Dakota also hosts a week-long summer camp with Junior ROTC cadets at Camp Rapid National Guard base in Rapid City. There, campers participate in military-style obstacle courses, physical fitness and drill marching training. The unit also conducts year-round rappelling events with a portable ropes course. A repel master from the 211th travels with the recruiter to guide participants through the course for a full-interactive activity.
140% increase in recruiting leads
In Montana, Air National Guard recruiting events place Air Force specialties inside trade-specific classrooms. Services airmen visit with culinary classes and Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer (RED HORSE) airmen work side-by-side with students to build affordable housing with the nonprofit NeighborWorks Montana.
Master Sgt. Joshua Allestad, Montana Air National Guard Retention Office manager, said matching Air Force occupations with trade schools, along with their most recent “Operation: Open Hangar” event, are ways the unit is returning to in-person recruiting events after the COVID-19 pandemic required them to be creative in their methods.
“We’re just trying to figure it out right now,” he said. “Traditional techniques that have worked for a decade are not working anymore.”
In April, close to 150 community members attended Operation: Open Hangar, where the Montana Air National Guard displayed aircraft and equipment to highlight the unit’s capabilities and community impact. The event highlighted Air Force specialties like Security Forces and medical.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal airmen brought robots to interact with, and Services airmen baked cookies out of a disaster response mobile kitchen trailer (DRMKT). The event generated approximately 80 leads – roughly 140% more than a typical month.
‘Recruiter for a day’
Meanwhile Lt. Col. Jennifer Carlson, 185th Mission Support Group deputy commander, came up with the idea for the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Wing to host a career fair, like those organized in civilian neighborhoods and schools. She said planning for an event of that magnitude requires all hands on deck. Along with a committee of about 30 members, Carlson held regular meetings and took meticulous notes to generate ideas to make the event fun, while getting the most impact.
“The career fair was truly an opportunity for a lot of our airmen to be the recruiter for a day and tell their story,” she said. “It was pretty amazing that level excitement both from the students that were coming in, and from the airmen working the tables.”
After ending the event with more than 115 leads, Carlson said by the numbers, the 185th Wing’s career fair was the largest, most rewarding in a while.
Master Sgt. Maren Stewart, Recruiting and Retention Battalion special projects NCO, said the results were comparable for the Nebraska Army National Guard’s “Guard for a Day” event.
“This was born from asking, ‘How do we explain our mission and capabilities to people?’ and ‘How do we get people excited about?’” Stewart said. “For recruiters, the ‘Guard for a Day’ events are one of those where we get the best return on investment.”
During Guard for a Day, Stewart said prospects could learn more about how they fit into the Guard, and how the Guard fits into their lives by exploring featured career fields and talking to soldiers. The unit incentivized attending the event for new recruits who are waiting to ship to Basic Military Training and encouraged them to bring a friend – if they do, they’ll get a free flight on a CH-47 Chinook.
For some, the event was more for decision making; 30 days after, the unit has already counted six Guard for a Day attendees who’ve enlisted.
After serving 20 years, Carlson added, their Wing’s success with the career fair has set the stage for future events.
“I think this event was necessary to start building that next bench of citizen airmen who want to serve, and trying to find a way to bring this generation in and help them be successful in what they want to do in their lives while also serving,” she said.Read comments