OSHKOSH, Wisconsin –
Sometimes all it takes is one mentor to spark an interest and a future Airman is generated.
Two years prior to enlisting in the Air Force in 2017, Staff. Sgt. Lydia Whitney, of the 756th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, was inspired by aviators at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s GirlVenture Camp during their AirVenture airshow in OshKosh, Wisconsin.
“My mentors at the camp in 2015 set my passion for aviation on fire,” Whitney said. “I did not have opportunities to get involved with aviation while in high school and so I cast the thought of being a pilot. They made the dream sound possible.”
This is the mission of the Air Force Recruiting Service – to inspire, engage and recruit the next generation of Airmen and Guardians. Personnel on active duty orders can join this mission by participating in the We Are All Recruiters program that gives them the opportunity to go on permissive temporary duty status to tell their unique story.
Since attending EAA’s GirlVenture as a recent high school graduate six years ago, Whitney now returns as often as she can. In this way, she gives back to others just like the mentors who inspired her. In July 2021, Whitney returned to GirlVenture alongside other Air Force members and veterans for the first session since 2020’s cancellation due to COVID-19.
“About 40 of the girls attended the military workshop I put on with a retired Air Force combat medic and flight engineer reservist,” Whitney said. “As it was a workshop, we tried to make it interactive. I brought flight gear and tools for the girls to perform simple maintenance tasks like safety wiring. They were excited about these interactions. I also had those who wanted to participate do a push-up competition.”
An event qualifies for WEAR when there is an interaction between potential applicants or influencers and Air Force personnel. Approval for the program is limited to those events where Airmen are directly speaking to potential applicants or influencers about Air Force opportunities. Applicants are defined as individuals within the 17- to 39-year-old range.
Data gathered from the Department of Defense’s Joint Advertising, Market and Research Studies continues to show a decline in youth familiarity with the military. Young people often report that they don’t know a service member or don’t have the knowledge of the military. By comparison, in 1995 approximately 40% of all American youth had a parent who served and today that number is only about 15%.
“It is surprising how little the girls actually know about the military,” said Whitney. “I put together a PowerPoint briefing regarding women I know personally in the Air Force and Navy to show some other career possibilities. Some of the girls have lofty goals to be pilots in the Air Force, but others were encouraged to look into other career options not realizing that the military has almost every career that is available on the outside, just with added benefits.”
For AFRS’s senior leaders, giving today’s youth first-hand experience is essential to their mission.
“I was inspired to join the Air Force when I was about eight and saw the Thunderbirds flying T-38s at MacDill AFB,” said Air Force Recruiting boss Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, noting the impact of seeing our Air Force out at events like the EAA AirVenture in July. “Without a doubt, these personal experiences and interactions with our Airmen and Guardians continue to be the most powerful way to light a fire in the hearts of our youth and get them thinking about joining us.”
Whitney said she was able to go after her goals after learning about the multiple pathways to get where she wanted to from mentors and she hopes she inspired the youth she met last month.
“Many of the girls specifically asked me about school since I told them that was one of my primary reasons for joining,” she said. “During the camp Col. Heather Penney and Col. Allison Black also spoke to the girls. I think this was the biggest source of inspiration, coming directly from military pilots.”
GirlVenture is also one of the many outreach engagements AFRS participates in to achieve the Air Force’s Rated Diversity Improvement Strategy objectives.
“We’re playing the long game," said Thomas. "We want to capture the imaginations of our next generation early and show them it is possible for them to be one of us. It’s a priority for the Air Force to reach youth across America and we are making efforts to find those underrepresented areas and bring Airmen to them.”
“This doesn’t always mean we send recruiters," Thomas continued. We can send any Airmen or Guardian to tell their Air Force and Space Force stories. And it’s a score when we can get hometown men and women to take advantage of programs like WEAR.”
More information about WEAR is available at www.recruiting.af.mil/WEAR.