Air Force continues anniversary celebration at NASCAR race

  • Published
  • By Randy Martin
  • Air Force Recruiting Service

The Air Force continued its year-long 75th anniversary celebration with a four-star presence in a scenic Midwestern community that boasts a rich racing history. The service’s highest ranking commissioned officer joined recruiters and future Airmen and Guardians when Air Force Recruiting Service showcased its Petty GMS sponsorship during the Kwik Trip 250 NASCAR Cup Series race at Road America near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

“We have a great relationship with NASCAR,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.

AFRS positioned a national advertising asset called “The Hangar” from July 1-3, inside the 4.08-mile racing circuit on a small part of more than 600 acres featuring lush rolling hills, maple trees and campsites. During the first two days, fans drew close to the exhibit that featured an F-16 Fighting Falcon replica and three stations inside an imitation hangar where guests could try being a boom operator during an inflight refueling mission or change an aircraft tire and operate tools like an Air Force mechanic.

The Hangar is part of a national marketing strategy that was designed in Texas by AFRS.

“The Air Force engages in experiential marketing and sponsorships to raise public awareness and help the Air Force Recruiting Service meet its mission to inspire, engage and recruit the brightest, most competitive candidates, with an emphasis on careers in science, technology, engineering and math,” said Lt. Col. Jason Wyche, AFRS’s recent chief of national events, during a visit to Road America on race day.

Wyche said that motorsports venues are logical places for recruiters to meet people who may be inclined to serve the nation and work in technical careers. Senior Air Force leaders agree.

“In NASCAR, you see technology, teamwork and competition come together and that’s the same thing that happens in the Air Force,” Brown said. He got a firsthand look at the course during a pace car ride with Air Force driver Erik Jones, shortly before the Kwik Trip 250.

The 2022 event at Road America was just the second NASCAR Cup Series race in the course’s 65 years as a motorsport mecca for fans in Wisconsin and beyond. Among them was a future Airman with an open mechanic enlistment contract from a village of about 1,500 people one hour north of Road America on Lake Michigan.

“I’m joining the Air Force because I want to go out into the world and meet new people,” said Caitlyn Ruttner, from Mishicot, Wisconsin.

Although she’s from Wisconsin, it was her first time at Road America. She recalled her childhood and her father sharing his love of NASCAR and him giving her toy cars to play with.

“Mom and dad are proud of me for joining the Air Force, and a little anxious, but that’s to be expected,” she said.

The opportunity to meet the Air Force’s top leader was a real and unexpected treat for Ruttner.

“It’s an honor and I’m shocked that I get to meet someone like the chief of staff,” Ruttner said. She was one of 23 future Airmen who recited the Oath of Enlistment during a pre-race ceremony at Road America’s Victory Lane. Their ceremony was seen by a national television audience and thousands of people on hand for the race.

Brown provided his perspectives after spending time with some of the enlistees and their family members who observed a loved one’s meaningful life experience in person.

“This year we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of our United States Air Force and when you think about our mission to fly, fight and win, anytime and anywhere, we can only do that because of the great recruiters and Airmen we have here today,” Brown said.

One of those recruiters was optimistic about accomplishing his fiscal 2022 goal for active-duty Air Force accessions.

“I guarantee that we’ll make our station, flight and squadron goal,” said Staff Sgt. Artice Melvin, an enlisted accessions recruiter for the 347th Recruiting Squadron, who works at a recruiting office in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The region he is responsible for is 49,000 square miles.

“This isn’t the easiest area to recruit in because we don’t have an active-duty Air Force base,” said Lt. Col. Patrisha Knight, a Space Force officer and 347th RCS commander. “Sometimes our recruiters are the only Airmen that civilians in this community have ever seen. These national assets are a huge part of our recruiting effort. When AFRS and these national assets come to our backyard, it’s invaluable.”

AFRS leaders have acknowledged that 2022 has been a difficult recruiting year with myriad factors leading to “headwinds” that could hinder accomplishment of the Air Force’s overall goal and that of the rest of the Department of Defense. Their motto has been “presence, presence, presence” because Defense Department reports show there is a declining propensity to join that could be related to the fact not many Americans get to see the military up close, know a military member or have seen a military base.

“The Air Force needs roughly 40,000 recruits to fill careers in the active duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard components, as engine mechanics, avionics specialists, electronics systems maintainers, crew chiefs, etc. — careers for mechanically-inclined youth who like to tinker with engines,” Wyche said.

Wyche accompanied Brown to Road America’s starting line. A straightaway lined with towers, smelling of fuel exhaust quieted one last time for a ceremony to honor the American flag with the singing of the national anthem.

A C-17 Globemaster III turned to and approached Road America above the line of race cars awaiting their instructions to start engines.

Flying 1,000 feet above, the C-17’s four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofan engines capable of 40,440 pounds of thrust, were audible to spectators awaiting the road race’s start. The flyover was one more reminder that the Air Force “owns the sky,” as they say in a recent commercial that aired in movie theaters in June.

“There’s no mistaking the similarities between the kind of teamwork that goes on in NASCAR and what goes on inside an Air Force aircraft,” said Capt. Joseph Carl, piloting the C-17, which is based at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington. “Our jets are louder though,” Carl bragged.

Carl said that as a child, he watched car races with his father. After high school graduation, he attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We take our pit crew everywhere we go, and we wouldn’t be successful without that team of technical experts including maintainers, crew chiefs and loadmasters,” Carl said.

Carl and nine Airmen involved in the race day flyover mission toured Road America before the race.

Several had been involved in the evacuation of thousands of people from Afghanistan in 2021. “It was rewarding to help, not just Americans, but also the people from Afghanistan,” said Senior Airman Matthew Alexander, a flight control specialist. “I’m proud to have been a part of that mission.”

At Road America, NASCAR fans greeted and thanked several of the Airmen for serving.

“It’s surreal to think that I’m taking part in a flyover for a nationally televised sporting event on Independence Day weekend,” said Senior Airman Robert Jorden, a loadmaster. “We’re grateful for the support of the American people.”

On pit road, the Petty GMS team readied a specially painted car bearing Air Force 75th anniversary stickers on each rear quarter panel. The Air Force-sponsored No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro’s engine roared as its team of mechanics and crew chiefs prepared to compete.

“It was great to have General Brown with us today at Road America,” said Jones, the driver of the No. 43 car. “We have such a unique opportunity with our Air Force partnership with how we can activate and bring awareness for all they do and to have General Brown come to a race, give him a pace-car ride and spend time with him was pretty special and something I’ll always remember. What the Air Force represents is so important and I’m thankful for the opportunity to represent them and help celebrate their 75th anniversary this year with a special decal on our No. 43 Chevy.”