JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
The most senior enlisted service member, by position, in the U.S. armed forces returned to San Antonio Feb. 9 for a talk with recruiters more than three decades after his own Oath of Enlistment first brought him to Texas.
“My journey started back in December of 1990 when I set foot on Lackland Air Force Base but I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for the actions, the diligence and the professionalism of my recruiter,” said SEAC Ramón Colón-López, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In his current assignment, Colón-López serves as the principal military advisor to the Chairman on all matters involving joint and combined total force integration, utilization, the health of the force, and joint development for enlisted personnel. He is the fourth person to hold the title and SEAC is not only his duty position but it is also his rank.
The meeting with Air Force Recruiting Service recruiters and leadership was meant to give the SEAC insight into how the Joint Force is approaching today’s challenges. For AFRS members, the visit was a welcomed opportunity to enlist the highest echelons of the Department of Defense in their fiscal year 2022 campaign to achieve their Air Force and Space Force goal.
“SEAC’s interest and our ability to immerse him in Air Force and Space Force recruiting given the limits of a pandemic along with other national recruiting challenges is an opportunity to showcase our Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Goldstrom, command chief, AFRS at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.
In January, AFRS commander, Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas outlined challenges facing AFRS in a memo to the unit.
“Not two years into a pandemic, and we have warning lights flashing … most notably our Qualified and Waiting list is about half of what it has been historically, lead conversions are down, propensity has dipped, unemployment is down, our public engagement and time in schools is at an all-time low, and we’ve had two years of limited recruiter training opportunities,” said Thomas.
When he took his seat in a conference room at the AFRS headquarters, Colón-López, a career Pararescueman, was prepared to talk about the mental and physical toughness which is required by all members of the DOD.
“I’ve been encouraging a lot of people to go ahead and memorize their oath,” Colón-López said to AFRS’s deputy commander, the command chief and senior staff leaders of AFRS’s operations and marketing directorates. “It’s a matter of priorities. We need to focus on what we are here to do and realize that there is a lot of sacrifice that goes with it.”
He outlined the top joint force recruiting priorities for the CJCS and the Secretary of Defense. They include the physical fitness of potential service members, recruitment marketing to counter possible negative sentiments of influencers regarding military service, and the preservation of Americans’ support for their armed forces.
Colón-López recalled the impact his recruiter had when they met in the SEAC’s hometown, Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“My message to you is pretty simple,” Colón-López said. “If you’re going to be out there on the front lines getting America’s best and brightest, make sure that you make that difference. That they not only remember your name long after serving but they remember the impact you make on their life because that is really the true core of who you are.”
The SEAC left AFRS’s headquarters accompanied by AFRS’s senior enlisted leader, armed with information for the remainder of his visit and the subsequent return to the Pentagon.
“Our headquarters staff, including operations and marketing directorates, provided a relevant and data-supported presentation which left the SEAC in a better position to advise the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on AFRS’s operations and our people,” said Goldstrom.
Goldstrom designed a two-hour tour covering as much of the recruiting enterprise as possible. Their first stop included a meeting with enlisted accessions recruiters from the 341st Recruiting Squadron in the Live Oak, Texas, recruiting station.
There, Colón-López encouraged recruiters to set high goals for themselves. He described his own motives for enlisting and compared that drive to the current Generation Z’s values and interests.
“What they are looking for now is education, stability, providing for their family, a trade that they can use to continue to make a living,” Colón-López said. “But they also need to understand the sacrifice that they will have to make.”
Colón-López presented each recruiter a Challenge Coin as a memento of the visit. According to the SEAC, it is modeled on a World War II-era dog tag so that recipients are reminded of sacrifices made by generations of service members. Its front features the SEAC’s positional colors and signature to represent his commitment to every person under his responsibility. The back has an imprint of the U.S. Constitution and service emblems of the Joint Force among other meaningful elements.
The final stop for SEAC’s immersive tour featured the 330th Recruiting Squadron, AFRS’s Special Warfare recruiting unit at its headquarters in San Antonio. Some 330th RCS recruiters were able to join the meeting from as far away as Hawaii, virtually. Discussion and questions for the seasoned special warfare PJ led to candid comments on myriad topics before a comprehensive farewell.
“I would like to personally thank you for making sure that you continue to build the bench in order to fight tomorrow’s wars. We need to make sure that we continue to produce sons and daughters that are able to go ahead and fight tomorrow’s wars and you are at the forefront of that,” Colón-López said.
“I appreciate being your teammate.”