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171st Recruiting Team Overcome COVID-19 Challenges

Tech. Sgt. Alex Wagner, a Production Recruiter, speaks with an incoming Airman at the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis, Pa. Aug. 17, 2020. In response to COVID-19, the 171st implemented stringent safety and health protocols. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle Brooks)

Tech. Sgt. Alex Wagner, a Production Recruiter, speaks with an incoming Airman at the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis, Pa. Aug. 17, 2020. In response to COVID-19, the 171st implemented stringent safety and health protocols. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle Brooks)

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. --

Traditionally, the age-old custom of military recruiting has required going into a recruiting station, shaking the hand of your recruiter, attending MEPS, and raising your right hand for the oath of enlistment. But, the military recruiting process, much like all other aspects of normal operations, has been forced to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s how the men and women of the 171st recruiting team are working to overcome this challenge.

In response to COVID-19, the 171st Air Refueling Wing implemented stringent safety and health protocols including operating under mission essential personnel, limiting base access, and social distancing measures. All of which have presented unique challenges for recruiting.

Another large piece of the recruiting effort relies heavily on in-person gatherings such as high schools or community events. Most of which have been canceled until further notice due to COVID-19.

“All of the events got canceled and that’s our bread and butter with getting out and contacting folks,” said Tech. Sgt. Alex Wagner, Production Recruiter with the 171st recruiting office.

“Our challenge is that our whole approach is being oriented in the community and being out and about and meeting people,” said Wagner “Which is essentially the one thing you weren’t allowed to do during all this, so we had to be resourceful and work as a team to figure out unique ways to still get our job done”

To overcome this challenge, the focus of the recruiting team has been to use the advantage of a social media presence to get information safely to the masses. One way they have done this is by advertising the recent enlistments during the pandemic so members of the community can see the 171st is still open and operational.

“We have focused our efforts on social media and getting very active on the states recruiting website, posting a lot of materials and informative information as well as advertising our enlistments,” said Master Sgt. Lindsey Brent, Recruiting Flight Chief with the 171st recruiting office.

Take a look at the Pennsylvania Air National Guard Recruiting Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PAANGrecruiting/

To meet the virtual demand, 171st recruiters have been in touch with local chambers of commerce to coordinate participation in recruiting at virtual job fairs.

“So far I’ve been in contact with three local chambers of commerce and we’re working on jumping into more events with them, as well as seeing who’s still functioning, how they’re functioning and how we can be a part of it,” said Wagner.

In the early stages of the pandemic, the 171st recruiting team switched to a teleworking or remote environment. Now, the team has resumed daily staffing on base with shift rotations.

“Fortunately for us, a huge percentage of our job responsibilities were fully functional from a remote environment, except for losing that face-to-face interaction with the applicants,” said Brent.

To conduct applicant interviews safely, recruiters have shifted their efforts to virtual interviews, phone calls, and emails.

Another big challenge for the recruiting team has been MEPS or Military Entrance Processing Station. MEPS closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a standstill on pre-qualification for military applicants for approximately eight weeks. Now that MEPS has reopened, recruiters have had to work diligently to keep compliance with a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine for applicants before being sent to MEPS.

“A good majority of the things we use to get applicants to MEPS requires a face to face visit, and we couldn’t have them on the installation,” said Wagner.

Even with lifting restrictions and some facilities reopening, such as MEPS, limitations are still in place for occupancies, scheduling, and hours. Recruiters must have precise coordination and teamwork to meet the demands to get applicants onboard.

“I anticipate seeing an influx of folks, especially those that have separated previously and see the benefit in that additional income and those additional benefits,” said Brent.

For approximately 4,000 members, the Pennsylvania Air National Guard provides a steady paycheck, access to low-cost health insurance, and a military retirement plan.

Flexibility and productivity have been at the forefront of recruiting during the pandemic. With many unknowns about future recruiting events at schools or other gatherings, the team has been in constant communication with state and local updates.

If you or someone you know is interested in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, get in touch with the 171st recruiting team at 412-776-7636 or by email at usaf.pa.171-arw.list.recruiting@mail.mil