Kendall celebrates win with Air Force recruiters
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) --
Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall recently celebrated a victory with Air Force recruiters at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee.
Kendall was on hand to celebrate the Air Force’s 75th anniversary, meet future faces of the Air and Space Forces and join the 332nd Recruiting Squadron in celebrating them meeting their annual recruiting goals. In keeping with tradition, Kendall rang a ceremonial bell signifying the squadron’s accomplishments while visiting the squadron members outside a national recruiting exhibit deployed to BMS for a NASCAR Cup Series playoff race.
"It's great to spend time with some of our incredible recruiters who are out here doing the important work that's required to keep our Air and Space Forces strong," Kendall said during the visit that coincided with the Air Force's anniversary weekend.
Kendall posed for photos with race fans, then thanked the gathering, which included families of Airmen, for their support. "To serve in the military is a tremendous opportunity and we need to communicate that," he said.
For Air Force recruiters, fiscal year 2022 has been one the toughest years in decades. Competition and low propensity to serve have combined with other factors that work against military recruiters. The small number of Air Force recruiters compared with other branches and their coverage area also creates additional challenges.
For example, with less than 100 Airmen, the 332nd RCS covers approximately 92,000 square miles. Having a large presence at Bristol on a race weekend was logical considering the sport's popularity. Bristol's enlisted accession recruiter, a ground equipment maintainer by trade, was thrilled at her prospects.
"As a recruiter, I'm really excited to be in Bristol so I can work and attend the motor speedway races," Tech. Sgt. Maureen Franks said.
Franks, and the 332nd RCS, got additional help from Air Force Recruiting Service's marketing division. A team deployed to Bristol to coordinate many aspects of race weekend including the placement of a special warfare-themed virtual reality simulator. The team also arranged for Erik Jones, the driver of the Air Force-themed, NASCAR's No. 43 stock car, to meet and greet some fans at the exhibit.
"It's an honor to represent the U.S. Air Force and have them on our number 43 Chevy this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway," Jones said. "This season has been great, and I can't thank the Air Force enough for their continued support and partnership with myself and Petty GMS."
It was one of several opportunities to showcase the Air Force for a television audience and ticketholders inside a coliseum that holds 150,000 people.
"I believe Air Force recruiters have a great opportunity to meet potential recruits and provide the community with information at Bristol Motor Speedway," said Airman 1st Class Seth Sillmon, a Recruiter Assistance Program member who was helping his former 332nd RCS recruiter at the race. Sillmon grew up in Talladega, Alabama, another rally point for race fans, and he recently graduated from Air Force basic military training and technical training school.
"NASCAR has been in my life since I was young," Sillmon said. "I always enjoyed the energy and excitement when I attended a race."
Future Airmen and Guardians shook hands with Kendall ahead of their pre-race appearance on an infield stage for an Oath of Enlistment ceremony. "We're tremendously proud of each one of you and I know that you will be very happy about the decision you have made," Kendall said. "You get a chance to do interesting, exciting, important work. You get to serve your country and prepare for a career in the service or outside of it in a very positive way."
After the ceremony, a U.S. flag, stretched wide between two of four Air Force Special Warfare rappelers descended from a Jumbotron called “Colossus” as race fans joined in singing, "I'm proud to be an American."
Once on the ground and covered in sweat from the decent on a humid night, one of the SW Airmen reflected on the opportunity.
"I love the patriotism of NASCAR fans and the way they show their love for the USA," said Master Sgt. Kristopher Tomes, a recruiter from the 330th RS and pararescue Airman by trade.
Tomes rejoined the rest of his team plus four future Airmen, who were cradling the flag to keep it from touching the ground. As they folded the flag, an Arkansas Air National Guard C-130J Super Hercules, flown by the 189th Airlift Wing from Little Rock, Arkansas, passed overhead.
"The United States Air Force and motorsports share similar values in their goals," Sillmon said. "In the Air Force, we operate as one team with one common goal – mission success. Similarly, you see a lot of that in motorsports. There is also an acute attention to detail from the drivers to the pit crews in motorsports and in the Air Force that attention to detail is what allows for mission success."
Air Force Recruiting Service met its overall recruiting goal for the Air Force's active component in fiscal year 2022 but will be starting fiscal 2023 with a much smaller pool of Delayed Entry Program personnel.