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Air Force recruiting seeks to broaden applicant pool to find best and brightest

A group of Air Force mentors attend a training session given by Air Force Recruiting Service's Detachment 1 during an Aim High outreach event at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Nov. 15, 2019.

A group of Air Force mentors attend a training session given by Air Force Recruiting Service's Detachment 1 during an Aim High outreach event at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Nov. 15, 2019. Aim High Outreach is an AFRS Det. 1 sponsored event and is an innovative program organic to Det. 1 supporting initiatives across all four Rated Diversity Improvement lines of efforts by achieving the following objectives: youth engagement, community outreach, and professional development and networking. (Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Air Force Recruiting Service is casting a wide net seeking out the best and brightest to become Airmen and Guardians. The goal is to reach out to underrepresented groups which will help diversify the force and tap into some areas that could pay dividends to manning and help inspire youth from all parts of America.

AFRS’ top Airman uses a sports analogy to describe how recruiting is trying to build the ultimate team by broadening their reach to all corners of the country.

“At the end of the day, recruiting must be about getting the ‘best athletes’ on the team. Fighting and winning wars is our job and we need the best warfighters in order to do that,” said Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, AFRS commander. “But not all parts of the nation can see themselves wearing our jersey and they’re not showing up for tryouts. So, recruiting for diversity is really about attracting many and then selecting the best to join our team.”

An example is AFRS has traditionally been strong recruiting in the “southern smile,” a reference to the southern states, with great effectiveness. While it is imperative that recruiters continue recruiting this fertile region, there are still many untapped areas of American talent. Thomas believes if we aren’t tapping into these areas then AFRS isn’t really getting all of the best in the country.

“Why should we accept anything less as America’s Air and Space Forces?” Thomas said. “We should go after the best, the most talented recruits out there across America. If we’re not diverse, then it’s statistically improbable that we’re doing that.”

While the enlisted force has a healthy diversity rate that resembles the American population by in large, it’s certain operational career fields and the rated career fields that are still lagging behind.

“On the enlisted side, I would say we’re doing relatively well, but we still have room for improvement. We’re meeting or exceeding nearly every diversity target that we have,” Thomas said. “However, our officer ranks, specifically in our pilots and rated aircrew, we still have a lot of work to do.  We’re not close to reflecting the country, in drawing the best from all of America. It will take time to get there but the progress must be swifter. Rated diversity, I believe, is the key to creating a service that truly is a warfighting organization that attracts and retains the most capable Airmen and Space Professionals.”

However, while Thomas is committed to improving diversity, he’s just as passionate about maintaining high standards and combat readiness.

“There is only one path to increasing diversity and that’s getting more high-quality diverse candidates that can outperform the next guy or gal in the recruiting line,” Thomas said. “Anything else is a failing proposition for national security.”

While the Air Force drives for increased diversity in the ranks, Pentagon leaders remain vigilant that selection processes remain focused on bringing in the most capable Airmen and Guardians.

“We want to recruit and develop a diverse Air Force and Space Force which capitalizes on our nation’s strengths to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” said Craig Ploessl, Secretary of the Air Force/Military Force Management, assistant deputy, recruiting and accessions. “We can do this without changing standards.”

In a move to improve the Air Force’s rated diversity, Air Force leaders officially released the service’s Rated Diversity Improvement Strategy March 17, 2021, to attract, recruit, develop and retain a diverse rated corps.

Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Joanne S. Bass signed the newly released RDI Strategy, co-sponsored by Air Education and Training Command’s Rated Diversity Improvement team headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

“The RDI Strategy is part of the Air Force’s broader initiative to improve diversity and inclusion across the entirety of the force,” Bass said. “We will continue to take action in ensuring diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity for all service members, generations to come.”

Air Force diversity includes, but is not limited to: personal life experiences, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural knowledge, educational background, work experience, language abilities, physical abilities, philosophical and spiritual perspectives, age, race, ethnicity and gender.

“AETC is focused on accelerating the Department of the Air Force efforts to improve the diversity of our rated career fields,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, AETC commander. “We will consider success when diversity and inclusion are fully ingrained throughout the force, and every Airman and their families are supported and empowered to reach their full potential.”

While Air Force recruiters continue casting a wide net to secure enlisted and officer recruits, AFRS’ Detachment 1 is tasked with increasing rated diversity within the Air Force.

“Our intent is for every youth to have an opportunity to connect with someone they can identify with,” Thomas said. “That may be based on race or gender. It could also be where they grew up or simply finding someone who’s accomplished their dream,” Thomas said. “Our AFRS Det. 1 is all about creating that excitement and understanding of what we do. It’s a very attractive lifestyle. But, if we don’t tell people about it, if we don’t show them, if we don’t let them taste it, then we potentially lose very high quality, often diverse, recruits.”

(Editor’s note: Information used in this story was obtained from Airman Magazine, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs and Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.)