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Recruiting squadron builds Air Force ranks with a new kind of recruit

Air Force recruiter Staff Sgt. Timothy Smith Jr. talks with Miles Montoya in the 349th Recruiting Squadron’s Norman office. Mr. Montoya is in the Delayed Entry Program and hopes to be a SERE specialist or combat controller, demanding careers with tough entry requirements. Sergeant Smith is helping him toward that goal and works with him several times a month, checking on his physical fitness progress, encouraging and guiding him. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Air Force recruiter Staff Sgt. Timothy Smith Jr. talks with Miles Montoya in the 349th Recruiting Squadron’s Norman office. Mr. Montoya is in the Delayed Entry Program and hopes to be a SERE specialist or combat controller, demanding careers with tough entry requirements. Sergeant Smith is helping him toward that goal and works with him several times a month, checking on his physical fitness progress, encouraging and guiding him. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Amassing an enormous area-of-responsibility, they call themselves bounty hunters, saying, "We'll find them anywhere." But, the members of the 349th Recruiting Squadron are far more than that. They are responsible for signing up the best and brightest individuals to join the Air Force, while facing challenges many military members will never understand. It is a testing and demanding mission.

Roughly 29,000 individuals are recruited by the Air Force each fiscal year. For the 349th RCS, that equates to 100 to 110 individuals each month. Headquartered in Bldg. 1, the Air Education and Training Command squadron has 110 personnel scouting out 183,000 square miles in four states -- Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri.

"The Air Force recruiters out there are amazing," said Lt. Col. Kevin Smith, 349th RCS commander. "On average, they are one-and-a-half hours from their front-line supervisors, are young Airmen, recently married with a couple of kids and they've grown up on an Air Force installation for the first five or six years in the Air Force. Now, they're in a small town, all by themselves with no other military presence and without base support."

The squadron, which is a part of the 369th Recruiting Group headquartered at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, is divided into eight flights and has 43 recruiting offices. Recruiters visit each of the 1,194 high schools in the squadron's area of responsibility at least once per year and see an average of 223,000 juniors and seniors. They also attend air shows, sporting events and job fairs. At Tinker, the squadron personnel manage advertising for the regional media outlets, billboards and public service announcements.

Qualified individuals have to meet age, weight, height and education requirements, as well as pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, medical test, plus additional paperwork. Though not required to enlist, 3 percent of this year's recruits have bachelor's degrees.

"The quality of recruits coming into the Air Force right now is off the charts," Colonel Smith said. "It's unheard of how good they are."

The colonel said someone who's "highly qualified" will score at least a 50 on the ASVAB. The 349th RCS is required to have at least 60 percent highly qualified recruits. To date this year, 92 percent of the recruits are highly qualified. Furthermore, 99.8 percent of personnel in the Delayed Entry Program, waiting to begin basic training, scored higher than a 50.

The 349th RCS has achieved its Air Force Recruiting Service goal for the past 121 consecutive months and for the remaining fiscal year, the colonel said the squadron has exceeded its goal.

"For the squadron as a whole, that's a pretty significant accomplishment, because the squadron as a whole doesn't fail," Colonel Smith said. "Good times, bad times, hard months, we succeed."

Additionally, of the nearly 200 flights in the Air Force Recruiting Service, one of the 349th RCS's flights in Wichita, Kan., is the No. 2 flight in the nation.

When recruits pass the basic requirements, they are sent to Military Entrance Processing Stations in Oklahoma City or Kansas City. Every Tuesday, new recruits are sent to Lackland AFB, to begin basic training.

Stationed in a recruiting office alone, it is up to the recruiter -- who is typically a senior airman, staff or technical sergeant -- to represent the Air Force.

"The first time an enlistee interacts with someone in a blue uniform, is usually a recruiter," said Chief Master Sgt. Charles Lamer, 349th RCS superintendent, who served as a recruiter for 14 years. "They are judged to a higher degree because of the representation and what we stand for. So, they have to be the sharpest at all times, and conduct themselves in the utmost fashion."

While a recruiter position is voluntary, the chief said, the selection process is competitive, ensuring a potential recruiter is a self-starter and self-motivator. Once chosen, a recruiter attends a six-week training program. Within the position, it is not uncommon for the recruiter to work more than 60 hours a week, giving up half their weekends each month to fulfill the mission.

Although the position is demanding, it has its benefits, said Chief Lamer.

"We do it because want to make a difference in a young man or woman's life. In most cases that's the motivation behind pursuing this position," he said. "We can take away the fact that the Air Force has done all these remarkable things for us professionally and personally, so why not explain that as personal testimony? It's a 'here's what I was doing before I joined the Air Force and here's what I've achieved.' It's pretty powerful when you have that personal testimony."

For more information about becoming a recruiter, go to www.rs.af.mil and click on the "Becoming a Recruiter" link. Or, call the Recruiter Screening Team at DSN 665-0584 or (210) 565-0584.