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JBSA News
NEWS | Dec. 21, 2020

Air Force recruiting innovates to save money, time

By Master Sgt. Chance Babin Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Air Force recruiters have continuously found innovative ways to keep the flow of recruits ready for Basic Military Training, and one new alternative to recruit processing may prove to be a huge resource saving idea.

A team of ground-breaking recruiters was able to process two people into the delayed entry program without ever stepping a foot into a Military Entrance Processing Station or military treatment facility. This proof of concept serves as a MEPS alternative, and was a recommendation from the Fiscal 20 National Defense Authorization Act, which uses civilian doctors in the medical-clearance process, and has the potential to save considerable man-hours and money for the Air Force.

Daniel Kim and Tyler Yarrish were the first two of a 20-person proof of concept. The idea has been floated around Air Force Recruiting Service for years but had never happened.

“I am continually impressed with the innovative thinking that comes from our Total Force recruiting team,” said Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, AFRS commander. “They are working tirelessly to adapt and overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19. With ideas like the MEPS alternative, we continue to find and in-process the best and brightest to join our U.S. Air and Space Forces. I’m encouraged by the proof of concept and ready to see this on a larger scale.”

Poff shared Thomas’ excitement to see this program develop.

“We have always felt like this was a viable option, but the idea seemed to meet some resistance. Oftentimes, we do things the same way for so long that we just assume it cannot be done any other way,” said Chief Master Sgt. David Poff, 369th Recruiting Squadron superintendent, located in Encino, California. “In the late summer of 2019, a rumor was floating around that Congress thought the Department of Defense should seek alternatives to centralized accession physicals at MEPS. As soon as Master Sgt. Ernest Coleman (the former flight chief for the 369th RCS H Flight) and I heard about that, we started discussing how we could actually make something like that happen.” 

The United States Military Entrance Processing Command operates 65 MEPS located throughout the 50 States and Puerto Rico. Applicants must travel to the closest MEPS to receive physical examinations. They are often driven by a military recruiter and they receive lodging at a nearby hotel that is paid for by that service. In 2015, USMEPCOM reported that 473,000 applicants from the military and other agencies processed through the 65 MEPS, which equates to 931,000 MEPS visits.

After the FY20 NDAA was released, Poff and his team’s idea started to take form. In the FY20 NDAA, it stated: “It is the sense of Congress that the Secretary of Defense should explore alternatives to centralized accession physicals at MEPS, including conducting physicals through community healthcare providers, in order to reduce transportation costs, increase efficiency in processing times and free recruiters to focus on the core of the recruiting mission.”

Poff and his team knew their idea could now be a reality and they immediately came up with a problem statement -- How can the Air Force process and ship applicants to BMT with a high success rate, while simultaneously reducing costs and time for both the applicant and the recruiter?

“We had some failed efforts along the way with some local healthcare providers. We were not willing to sacrifice the integrity of the medical evaluation,” Poff said. “Ultimately, we teamed up with a company called Concorde Inc. This is the same company that the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board (DODMERB) utilizes to find healthcare providers to complete the accession physical for all ROTC and Service Academy applicants nationwide.” 

Poff pitched his idea to AFRS leadership in a video teleconference call June 2, 2020. According to Poff, leadership loved the idea and his team was given a thumbs up to move forward with the concept.

From there, Poff and his team started working directly with leaders in the AFRS Operations and Accession Medical Waiver Divisions. Capt. Jeffrey Rueben, the AFRS chief of physical standards in the Accession Medical Waiver Division, and two subject matter experts, Master Sgt. Jon Rice, 369th Recruiting Squadron, Pacific Operations Recruiting Program Manager, at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and Tech. Sgt. Adam Ranney, MEPS Liaison, 369th Recruiting Squadron, Los Angeles, California, worked many hours to ensure they delivered all necessary requirements of the medical exam. 

“This was not as easy as we originally thought because the DODMERB and MEPS medical physical requirements are very different,” Poff said. “The last item we had to work out was how to fund this. It isn’t as easy as swiping a card. After three months of back and forth with contracting, we received a green light to proceed.”

The average cost for bringing a recruit to MEPS – including transportation, lodging, cost of the medical examination and meals – is $1,461, according to Poff. His proof of concept cuts that cost to $281.95.

“In addition to the cost savings, the most valuable savings this concept may be able to reduce is our recruiter’s time,” Poff said. “Many recruiters must provide applicant transportation. As an enlisted recruiter, I was in Iowa City, Iowa. It was an over four-hour round trip for me to take an applicant to MEPS. I would then have to drive back the next day to pick the person up. This took two days away from me that I could have focused on lead prospecting, school visits or appointments.” 

For the recruiting flight conducting the test, recruiters in Orange County have to drive four to six hours round trip each time they provide transportation to MEPS. Recruiters need three to four processors a month just to meet their mission objectives.

Tech. Sgt. Elliot Butler, the flight chief with the 369th RCS H Flight, gave an example of how much time is spent during a month with MEPS trips alone.

“There are 31 days in January. When you take off weekends and holidays, there are only 19 days,” Butler said. “If a recruiter has to take four people to the MEPS and come back and pick them up the next day, with a four- to six-hour round trip drive, that takes up almost eight workdays. That really only leaves 11 days in the month to focus on the core of recruiting, which is to find future Airmen, go to schools and prepare these applicants for BMT.”

While this could help save recruiters significant time on the road, it also has the same benefits for the applicant.

“We also have areas where this would help the applicants as well,” Poff said. “There are locations where applicants have to get on a plane to fly to a MEPS to see if they are qualified.”

Poff said he and his team are fueled by finding new ways to improve processes and conserve valuable resources.

“This team we have here believes that if we are not progressing, we are regressing. They know that we must innovate new ways to ensure mission success,” the chief said. “They are constantly looking for ways to improve our efforts, lower costs, save man-hours and reduce risks. Additionally, during COVID we learned that a MEPS could be shutdown. The Air Force has not stopped shipping people to BMT and we believe an opportunity like this might ensure that we always have a way to keep processing and shipping Airmen.”

Poff also used a study by RAND that compares the MEPS process versus DODMERB process.

“The RAND study reviews the effectiveness of current processing procedures. DODMERB is used for all service academies, ROTC and some officer applicants,” Poff said. “MEPS is used for all enlisted and some officer applicants. It reviews current procedures and offers ideas for COA’s (course of action) to the DoD. They recommended a hybrid approach. They pointed out that this would especially help applicants and recruiters that were more than 50 miles from a MEPS.”   

Poff credits Kim and Yarrish for being patient with their enlistment as he and his team figured out the process.

 “DODMERB doesn’t do lab work/testing on accession physicals or a few other items that are required at MEPS,” Poff said. “We had to go back and forth a couple of times on labs, depth perception, color vision and a couple of other items to ensure we aligned with what the Accession Medical Waiver Division wanted. It took a little longer than we believe it will for future applicants while we figured out the process in these unchartered waters.”

The chief is very optimistic about the future of this process. 

“During this proof of concept, a thorough analysis of timelines will be accomplished to examine if the alternative medical processing can be comparable to current averages,” he said. “Areas to consider include prescreen timelines, scheduling timelines and consult times.”

Poff said that in no way are they suggesting dissatisfaction with MEPS or MEPCOM.

“This is to see if there are alternative ways to complete Initial Medical Evaluations that potentially increase efficiency and flexibility, save the Air Force money, increase customer service for applicants and give our Airmen more time to focus on recruiting,” he said. “The goal is not to beat or outdo MEPS, only to investigate if an alternative method is feasible. Success equals a comparable time from personal interview record to the delayed entry program.”