'Best and brightest' joining Air Force, says AFRS

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- According to a Gallup Poll, the military is the most respected job in the country, and the Air Force is considered the service of choice. Unfortunately, polls also show people ages 18-24 are less likely join the military than in the past.

This, along with Program Budget Decision 720 cuts, and the fact that a large portion of the United States does not meet the requirements to serve in the military can make the job of recruiting a difficult one.

"Seventy-three percent of this nation's 18-to-24 year olds aren't qualified to serve in the military, and that's on academics alone," said Brig. Gen. Suzanne Vautrinot, Air Force Recruiting Service commander. "(This includes) level of education -- having a high school diploma -- and the ability to pass the (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery)."

She said after considering physical problems like asthma, mental issues like kids taking medication for Attention Deficit Disorder, and problems that require moral waivers, only about one percent of the nation is eligible to join the Air Force.

"So when you have a low likelihood that people want to serve and so few who are qualified, the fact these recruiters are so successful is a real credit," the general said.

Within Utah, recruiters have been able to bring in 415 people within the last two years; 262 people in 2006, and 153 this year. The smaller number represents PBD 720 cuts requiring recruiters to bring in less people then they have in past years.

"The Air Force's enlisted accession goals for the last few years have decreased by a few thousand people, from 30,750 in fiscal year 2006 to 27,801 currently," said Maj. Sean McKenna, AFRS public affairs. "With that said, the Air Force's entrance standards are as high as ever, and are easily the highest of any of the four branches of service. We have absolutely no problem bringing in the best and brightest that America has to offer.

Major McKenna said the Air Force has met or exceeded its recruiting goals every year since 1999.

The Air Force has already met its recruiting goal for this year, and recruiters are planning out who will be sent to training for the next five months, General Vautrinot said. This includes the hard to fill careers like nurses, dentists and special operations.

The Air Force gives very specific instructions on how many people in what career fields need to be sent to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, every week. If someone decides to back out of joining the military before they are sent to basic training, the recruiter must find someone else in their delayed entry program to do the same job and is willing to leave on short notice.

As recruits wait to be sent to basic training, recruiters stress the importance of them learning and living the Air Force's core values and how important education is, General Vautrinot said.

"We also try to instill upon them we are a nation at war," she said. "But we also tell them we aren't just in Afghanistan and Iraq; we had Airmen in all but seven nations around the world last year."

Future Airmen are also encouraged to go visit local bases and talk to young Airmen to absolutely make sure the Air Force is what they want to do.

"It's important to say 'is this what I want to do?'" said the general. "The Air Force spends way too much money on someone in basic training or technical training to have someone who's not sure they want to be here. I would rather have fewer people in my United States Air Force than to have people who aren't sure they want to be here or aren't qualified to be here."