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Up Close and Personal: Recruiters gather to learn all about McConnell, the KC-46 and the Wichita area

A KC-46 Pegasus approaches another KC-46 as the boom is about to attach for refueling during a training mission.

A KC-46 Pegasus approaches another KC-46 as the boom is about to attach for refueling during a training mission. Recruiters from the 352nd Recruiting Squadron were onboard as part of a recruiting event hosted by the 931st Air Refueling Wing, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, Apr. 10, 2021. The recruiters came to learn about the mission of the 931st ARW to better understand the unit’s needs as they grow into the KC-46 mission. (Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Thames, the recruiting flight chief at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, checks out the engine of a KC-46 Pegasus at the school house located at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, Apr. 9, 2021

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Thames, the recruiting flight chief at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, checks out the engine of a KC-46 Pegasus at the school house located at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, Apr. 9, 2021. Thames was one of roughly 30 recruiters that visited the 931st ARW to learn the mission and better understand the unit’s needs as they grow into the KC-46 mission. (Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

The 931st Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, hosted a tour for the 352nd Recruiting Squadron to highlight the mission, local community and the need for more people as the unit is growing with the recently added KC-46 mission

The 931st Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, hosted a tour for the 352nd Recruiting Squadron to highlight the mission, local community and the need for more people as the unit is growing with the recently added KC-46 mission. Event organizers also took an opportunity to educate visiting local ROTC cadets from Kansas State University Detachment 270 on the same mission and share opportunities to serve in the Air Force Reserve with the cadets. (Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kansas --

Air Force Reserve recruiters from across the central United States converged on McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, in April for a unique immersion to learn first-hand about the 931st Air Refueling Wing, the KC-46 Pegasus and the Wichita area.

Armed with what they learned, the recruiters assigned to the 352nd Recruiting Squadron went back to work better positioned to help the 931st meet its manning challenges.

“The visit from the 352nd recruiters marks just the beginning of our massive efforts to field the latest Air Force weapon system, the KC-46 Pegasus,” said Col. Phil Heseltine, 931st ARW commander. “With more than 300 vacancies, we could not meet our conversion demands without their support.”

The colonel said his entire team was extremely impressed by the support they received from the 352nd RCS. 

“I can’t overstate the impact it had to bring them to McConnell AFB, and engage directly with our Wichita and Derby city leaders, Mayor Whipple and Mayor White, as well as seeing first-hand what an amazing place McConnell is for our Reserve Citizen Airmen to both live and serve,” he said. “Partnered with our active duty and Air National Guard wing leaders, Col. Rich Tanner, (22nd ARW commander), and Col. Jason Knobbe, (184th Wing commander), our 931st ARW team put on a world-class event that I believe should be the model for other locations to emulate. Each recruiter left knowing what an Air Force crown jewel we have at McConnell Air Force Base.”

“Never underestimate the power of personal one-on-one connections,” said Lt. Col. Michael Rigoni, 352nd RCS commander. “Although we’ve been given tremendous IT (information technology) capability over the course of the last year, it doesn’t match having the power to speak eye-to-eye with another person, make a special connection, see an aircraft or training facility up close, or appreciate how incredible and complex in-flight refueling is at 20,000 feet. We collectively gained an entirely new level of appreciation for what the 931st ARW and Wichita, Kansas, have to offer.”

Lt. Col. Matt Basler, 931st Mission Support Group commander, served as the lead planner and focal point for this event. As the 931st ARW is in full conversion to the KC-46, the unit is growing by leaps and bounds. 

“Roughly nine months ago, our leadership team recognized that we would need more Airmen to fulfill our mission. During a site visit with Lt. Col. Rigoni and Senior Master Sgt. Cole Chamberlain (the senior recruiter at McConnell), the three of us were discussing the unique jobs we had to offer – including boom operators,” Basler said. “As it was somewhat difficult to describe exactly what boom operators did, I recommended that Lt. Col. Rigoni and his team simply come out during a UTA and see it for themselves.”

Over the next several months, the two organizations had several conversations about how they could work together to increase mission readiness across the 931st ARW and ensure the KC-46 was primed for rapid global mobility – if given the call.  

“This evolved into the opportunity for the 931st ARW to show recruiters firsthand what other jobs there were and where we were having difficulty in filling vacancies,” Basler said. “Most importantly, the event allowed us the opportunity to grow our relationship with the 352nd Recruiting Squadron – one we want to foster for years to come.”

Currently the 931st Maintenance Group has more than 90 vacancies for crew chiefs. Additionally, there are approximately 25 vacancies between two KC-46 avionics career fields, communication/navigation and integrated flight control system/guidance and control. They also have more than 15 vacancies in KC-46 aircraft hydraulic systems, and 10 vacancies in the aircraft electrical/environmental control systems career field.

The vacancies are primarily traditional Reserve positions, but there are opportunities to serve as an Air Reserve Technician.

“With the advent of the new weapon system, there are more than 300 newly added positions to support our expanding mission,” Heseltine said. “Everything from pilots to boom operators, to maintenance and mission support specialists.” 

The 931st ARW is also experiencing significant growth in its security forces and civil engineering units. 

“By flying with us, our recruiters can now speak from personal experience what an amazing capability the KC-46 brings and are ready to take this back to the next engagements with prospective Air Force recruits,” Heseltine said.

“This is the first time in the 12 years I have been in recruiting that I have seen something like this happen,” Chamberlain said. “This not only raised morale for the recruiters, I think it also raised morale for some of the Reservists who were able to show off what they get to do every day. For the recruiters, I believe it was an event that re-blued them. It’s not every day we get to see the end result of placing that new Airman in the wing.”

Event organizers also took advantage of the immersion to educate local ROTC cadets from Kansas State University Detachment 270 on the 931st mission.

“Several months ago, we learned that the active duty is not planning to commission as many officers as they originally programmed for,” Basler said. “This left many eager and passionate individuals who wanted to serve their country unsure of their future. Once we learned that there was a program to allow ROTC cadets to commission directly into the Air Force Reserve, our wing commander saw an amazing opportunity to give these cadets hope.”

Seeing the opportunity to share with the cadets about opportunities to serve in the Air Force Reserve, the 931st ARW leadership and recruiting set up a visit for 37 cadets from KSU.

“We worked closely with Detachment 270th’s commander, Lt. Col. Garrett Hogan, to plan an event that would give cadets information on how they could still pursue their dreams in the Air Force,” Basler said. “What many people do not know is that the Air Force Reserve offers so many opportunities to young individuals – we simply needed to convey that information to the right crowd.”

While this immersion event was unique, Rigoni sees no reason it can’t be duplicated.

 “I hope we can benchmark and reproduce events similar to this event at each of the other 38 wings and at each of our four recruiting squadrons in the Air Force Reserve,” he said. “Often overlooked, recruiting provides the Air Force Reserve first contact and interface in communities and bases all over the world. Recruiting is an important conduit and liaison between unit commanders, leaders and prospective new members.” #ReserveReady #ReserveReform

(Babin is assigned to the Air Force Recruiting Service public affairs office.)    ■

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