A new normal: VaANG recruiters go digital

Virginia Air National Guard recruiters stream a Zoom meeting to Facebook Live on Aug. 9, 2020. The event featured a panel of current VaANG members in various career fields who answered questions from viewers and discussed their reasons for joining the Guard.

RICHMOND, Va. — As students begin the fall semester with virtual learning, recruiters in the Virginia Air National Guard are contending with their ability to meet the possible recruits in the new socially distant environment. There is no specific strategy or playbook for recruiting through a pandemic, but one thing is understood; recruiters must meet students where they are — online.

Traditionally, VaANG production recruiters like Staff Sgt. Franklin Love would spend their workdays networking with the public at community events, shopping centers, career fairs, and of course, in high schools. However, in this climate of heightened health protections and restrictions, VaANG recruiters said they’ve almost had to become digital content creators overnight. Their responsibilities now include ensuring newly established social media pages feature videos and images that assist in building interpersonal relationships with their audience; something Love said he typically accomplished with candidates after repeated in-person visits.

“There’s a standard for recruiters to visit all the schools in your zone at least once per quarter,” Love said. “Then, depending on what priority level the school is—for example, if there’s an ROTC program—then we visit at least two to three times per quarter. We do this to establish that rapport with the students so they feel comfortable coming to us, but we’ve obviously had to adapt.”

Love added, he’s even used Facetime to conduct virtual enlistment ceremonies.

Another VaANG recruiter, Tech. Sgt. Telia Garry, streamed a Zoom meeting using Facebook Live in August. The event featured a panel of current VaANG Airmen in various career fields who answered questions from viewers and discussed their reasons for joining the Guard. More than 950 people viewed the stream within the first week of posting to the recruiters’ Facebook page. However, it’s unclear how many of those views turned into leads and resulted in accessions. Nonetheless, Garry said she plans to continue the virtual meetings in the future and even hopes to invite students to watch them live by working with school counselors in her zone of responsibility.

Staff Sgt. Alexandria Zavala, also a VaANG recruiter, noted some differences in recruiting at the Air National Guard-level versus the regular Air Force and cited patrons having the opportunity for walk-ins at storefronts to see active duty recruiters. VaANG recruiting offices, however, are located on military installations and require base access.

“If we’re in the office, we’re not recruiting,” Zavala said. Doing business on the digital landscape has allowed the team to reach a wider audience than ever before and has provided more convenient ways for that audience to communicate with the team.

In a move to enhance marketing and advertising for ANG recruiters, the Air Force Recruiting Service and Air National Guard Recruiting and Retention signed a mutual support agreement in July to combine resources and integrate staff. According to a July news release from the AFRS, the contract will enhance opportunities for the Guard to reach a broader audience and strengthen the AF brand.

“This is another leap forward in our journey to have one total force recruiting effort,” Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, AFRS commander, said in the July release. “Having our Air National Guard join forces under the same, single contract with Air Force Recruiting Service will drive even greater collaboration and ensure we work as one world-class team getting the message out about serving full-time or part-time in the Air Force.”

Despite coronavirus, the VaANG mission continues to grow and relies on its recruiting and retention team for the manpower to see that mission through. Master Sgt. Kevin Singleton, VaANG Recruiting flight chief, said the unit’s recruiters have stepped up and answered the call without fully knowing the conditions of their new normal.

“I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” Singleton said. “We couldn’t go to schools, we couldn’t have career fairs, we really couldn’t do anything and still really can’t, but our goal for the fiscal year has been surpassed. It’s remarkable what they’ve done.”