MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
When it comes to recruiting, most people in the Air Force wouldn’t necessarily select that job as their first choice. They either want to maintain jets, fly the aircraft, or just generally be where all the action is. However, for U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justin Cayton, a production recruiter for the 169th Fighter Wing, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be except recruiting. Cayton loves his job as a recruiter and is the top production recruiter for the South Carolina Air National Guard.
Cayton’s path to recruiting has been unusual to say the least. “Before the Air Force, I was just a country boy from the state of West Virginia running through the hills, fishing, hunting, having a good time,” said Cayton. In high school, he initially wanted to be a Marine, but his mother took him to the Air Force recruiting office instead, beginning his active duty Air Force career. “I loved my heritage, I loved my state, but growing up in the state of West Virginia there’s not much to do besides working in the oil field, working in timber or something like that. I wanted something more,” Cayton said.
In 2007 at the beginning of Cayton’s career, he loaded bombs and missiles on F-16 fighter jets at Osan Air Base, South Korea. As an aircraft armament systems specialist his job was to ensure that explosive devices were safely and accurately delivered. He then moved on to working at Shaw AFB until 2012 before cross training over into cyber security.
While deployed as a communications security officer in Saudi Arabia, he received a ‘Congratulations’ email on being selected as a recruiter. “There was this program called DSD, Developmental Special Duty, and I was actually deployed when I found out I was going to become a recruiter,” Cayton said. Nobody in his unit knew he was going to become a recruiter, not even his supervisor.
After hearing the news, Cayton spoke to his commander about his possible options. “In the end, I decided to do my four years, be done with recruiting, and go back to my job,” Cayton said.
At the time, Cayton was not happy about being selected to be a recruiter. “I loved what I did. I loved being in the communications world because I knew I would be able to support my family when I was done with the Air Force because that career field is in very high demand in the civilian world,” Cayton said. He felt as if he was being forced to give up a career path that could potentially help his family in the long-run.
It wasn’t until his second year of active duty recruiting in Buffalo, N.Y., when Cayton truly became passionate with his assigned position. “It all turned around when I met Shakur May. This individual came to me with a laundry list of issues and no recruiter would work with him. Not the Marines, Army, Navy, nobody would work with this individual. He’s one of those people that just needed a second chance. My boss at the time said, ‘You don’t have time to work with him. You need to focus on your goal.’ However, I kept working him,” said Cayton. Piece by piece, Cayton continued to obtain all the waivers and paperwork needed in order to get May enlisted.
“One day May came into my office and I told him he had a job. May started to cry. His mom and grandma also began to cry and dance when they heard the news. It was something that really inspired me and flipped the switch inside of me. It made me realize that I can really do something with this job, I can impact people’s lives and change them. As a recruiter if that doesn’t touch you and inspire you to be better, you don’t need to be recruiting,” Cayton explained.
The most difficult part of being a recruiter, according to Cayton, is dispelling the myth that every recruiter lies. “There is no gain for me for lying. I don’t make money for lying, I don’t get money for putting you in, I get the exact same paycheck that every single Tech. Sgt. gets. There is no reason for me to lie to try to get that number because if I lie to get that number, that person is not going to tell that friend or family member about their recruiting experience,” said Cayton. He said being approachable and a little bit silly is a great way to quickly break that barrier between the recruiter and applicant. You have to be able to understand people and read them quickly in order to be a successful recruiter.
Another important aspect that has made Cayton successful is schedule management. “I call it schedule management because you can’t manage time, time is consistent. But schedule management is definitely a must-have in recruiting. You have to manage your schedule because if you don’t work your schedule, it will eat you alive,” Cayton explained. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, keeping personal plans organized in order to reach the desired outcome has proven especially important due to multiple virtual encounters versus one school visit per day.
Overall, Cayton is proud of being a recruiter and emphasizes the understated importance of the hard work not seen by many. Cayton concluded, “They see us leave at 2 or 3 p.m. but they don’t know that we’re working Saturday for an enlistment. People don’t see that behind recruiting. We never turn off recruiting, we’re always working. You can call any one of our recruiting phones and I guarantee you we will be responding to a text message or a phone call because we have to. We never turn it off.”