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Swamp Fox recruiters meet FY20 goal by successfully adapting to a COVID-19 world

Recruiting strategies have adapted a more virtual and social media based approach in order to reach multiple audiences while maintaining the safety of the recruiters and applicants.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Pauline Craig, a production recruiter, and Staff Sgt. Brandon Woods, marketing and advertising specialist, both assigned to the South Carolina Air National Guard's 169th Fighter Wing, discuss their virtual tactics that they utilize to continue recruiting during the COVID-19 pandemic at the McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, August 19, 2020. Recruiting strategies have adapted a more virtual and social media based approach in order to reach multiple audiences while maintaining the safety of the recruiters and applicants. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Mackenzie Bacalzo, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Recruiting strategies have adapted a more virtual and social media based approach in order to reach multiple audiences while maintaining the safety of the recruiters and applicants.

Oniyah Meadows, a new recruit for the South Carolina Air National Guard, performs her enlistment into the South Carolina Air National Guard's 169th Fighter Wing at the Joint Armed Forces Reserve Center on McEntire Joint National Base, August 19, 2020. Due to COVID-19, the recruitment and retention team of the South Carolina Air National guard have converted to a more virtual approach to recruits and participate in the proper health and safety precautions when interacting face-to-face. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Mackenzie Bacalzo, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Recruiting strategies have adapted a more virtual and social media based approach in order to reach multiple audiences while maintaining the safety of the recruiters and applicants.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Woods, marketing and advertising specialist, assigned to the South Carolina Air National Guard's 169th Fighter Wing recruitment team reviews his Facebook page during the COVID-19 pandemic at the McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, August 19, 2020. Recruiting strategies have adapted a more virtual and social media based approach in order to reach multiple audiences while maintaining the safety of the recruiters and applicants. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Mackenzie Bacalzo, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --

The 169th Fighter Wing’s Recruiting and Retention team met its fiscal year 2020 enlistment goal and continues bringing in potential Airmen to the South Carolina Air National Guard (SCANG) during the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Steve David, Recruiting and Retention Superintendent, explained his team has successfully adapted to COVID challenges by shifting to a more focused virtual approach when communicating with applicants. “With the discovery of COVID, we’ve really ramped up our social media recruiting. We have additional assets from the National Guard Bureau (NGB) that allows us to have marketing and advertising individuals that assist us in social media, Facebook, and Indeed,” David said.

The first hurdle the recruiting team had to overcome was the full stop of recruit medical screening at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) at the beginning of the pandemic. “It was out of our hands,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Edmunds, Recruiting and Retention Flight Chief. “From a recruiting standpoint, honestly I think COVID actually has helped us alter the way that we recruit and has actually made us a little more effective with our time. But from a processing standpoint, that’s been the biggest effect on our end.”

Another obstacle they overcame was the way enlistments are conducted. In the past, enlistments were done in the traditional face-to-face manner with the applicant raising his or her hand and repeating the oath of enlistment. Thanks to COVID and social distancing requirements that procedure has evolved. Now, in order to meet manning requirements, enlistments are now being done virtually. “[Air Force regulations] state that an enlistment has to be conducted a certain way. However, there are gray areas that we were able to take advantage of because this train never stops. It doesn’t matter if there’s a pandemic. So whether or not we’re able to process people, we are still calling people, lining people up for MEPS, maintaining that consistent contact with a potential applicant,” David said.

The COVID crisis has also forced his team to get creative and think out of the box, Edmunds explained. “We had to alter the way we do our job so everything now has become more virtual, more Facetime and Zoom calls. It has actually become more productive for us because we’re not stuck behind the wheel driving to a high school. Even though it’s more virtual, I believe it’s more effective,” Edmunds said.

Thankfully being able to adapt to change has helped the recruiters navigate and succeed. “We are constantly reacting to society. If you aren’t able to react to change, you’re not going to be a successful recruiter. Otherwise you’re just going to be stuck and not be able to make progress. So it has really highlighted our blind spots and our team has stepped up to the challenges. You can’t resist change. You have to be reactionary,” David said.

The use of Facetime and virtual interaction has actually made it easier to recruit someone into Air National Guard according to Edmunds. “Our target audience nowadays is so tech savvy and so virtual that it’s simple. Their faces are usually buried in their devices anyways. They are more receptive to you virtually now than when you’re in their face because they may feel intimidated. When I’m virtual, it sometimes relaxes them a little more. I love the virtual recruiting,” said Edmunds.

Quickly reacting to the COVID pandemic was a team effort that required cooperation and buy-in from their leadership, David explained. “Leadership allowed us to push for a memorandum for record that really allowed us to stretch the lines of our business. It was a feat for them to actually get it authorized because no one has ever dealt with a situation like this while our leadership just said, ‘Do it. We support you,’” said David.

The production work routine has evolved from a face-to-face practice to a more virtual route of communication. Recruiters now have time to utilize other assets rather planning out events. Edmunds said that doing more Zoom calls and virtual career fairs have been added to their normal day.

The safety of our military personnel continues to be a top priority that the recruiting and retention staff have successfully demonstrated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our recruiters are staying safe by performing Facetime, Google Duo, and Zoom calls on an everyday basis. We are very cognizant of each person on this team and their safety. We do understand that people have to do their job but not at the jeopardy of their health and safety,” David said.

In spite of all the changes and challenges this year, the SCANG recruiters stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. For the first time in six years, they blew past 150 enlistments. “I’m proud to say that through the global pandemic, this recruiting team just put in 20 people in one month which hasn’t happened since August 2015,” said David. In fact, this past fiscal year the recruiters enlisted a total of 154 Airmen into the South Carolina Air National Guard. This is a huge accomplishment for the 169th Fighter Wing’s Recruitment and Retention team. Achieving this number of enlistments has not been accomplished since 2014.

“I think before the pandemic, you didn’t have time to really reflect on what you were doing, you were just doing it. Whereas now, you’re meeting with so many people and you’re able to reach such a larger audience without having to go places that you really get to see your progress,” Edmunds said. “To be able to quantify your day now and quantify your day back then and see you’re actually getting more done now by moving less. To me, that has been the most eye-opening experience.”

With the results that the recruitment team is achieving, going back to face-to-face recruiting may become a thing of the past. Edmunds said, “I think this is going to be the new normal especially when NGB compares pre-COVID numbers and during COVID numbers. They will quantify that we were able to do our job during COVID and see that a shift needs to happen. ‘If they’re sustaining during the pandemic, why couldn’t they have done their job like this before the pandemic?’ I think it’s going to be more acceptable for the virtual tactics.”

Summarizing the COVID era so far, Edmunds said, “You’re always taught ‘you gotta go, you gotta go’. But now recruiters are now saying, ‘I don’t have to go. I just talked to 50 kids in an ROTC class via Zoom and I can do that five times today.’ That’s awesome. Just looking at your production from the outside and telling yourself, ‘Man I’m even more productive now than before the pandemic’ is probably one of the better outcomes the pandemic has brought us.”