Tell your Air Force story

  • Published
  • By Michael Richter
  • U.S. Air Force Band of Flight

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio--How many Air Force touchpoints did it take for you to raise your right hand? For me, it took a few.  

I grew up on Long Island, New York, and I don't remember ever seeing the uniform as a kid. Like many of my generation, my dad had served in the Army in Vietnam. He never spoke much about his time in service, so the idea that someday I could serve didn't sink in, and off to college I went.  

When I was in college, the United States Air Force Band from Washington, D.C. visited the university. They were great, which honestly surprised me. Lacking exposure, I didn't associate the military with excellence. I didn't know any better. The Airmen from the band were kind, articulate and very generous with their time. I came away with a much higher opinion of the Air Force. But at that point, I didn't think military life was for me. 

A few years later, when the band from Robins Air Force Base came to town, I was at a career crossroads. I graduated with a degree in trumpet performance, and as I'm sure you're shocked to hear, this didn't immediately result in employment in my chosen field.  

A friend recommended me to the Robins band, as they just happened to be down a trumpet player for their concert. I sat in with the band and was once again blown away by the talent and professionalism of the Airmen I encountered. They auditioned me and offered me a job, and I took it.  

Like many recruits, I thought, "What's four years of my life? This could be fun.” Twenty-two years later, I am a retired Master Sergeant working as the director of operations for the Band of Flight here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. 

I tell my story here to point out the interventions that it took for me to consider joining the Air Force. I am in the minority of Americans with a parent who served, and it still took two high-quality touchpoints to convince me to join. Now think about all those communities out there that never even see an Airman. 

The Air Force must recruit 50,000 Airmen annually to maintain current manning levels. That's a lot, and it's getting harder. Some of this is due to the well-publicized dip in the number of young Americans able to meet various recruitment standards. But we must admit too that we've lost some of our connection with our fellow Americans near and far. A quick anecdotal history shows why. 

Those who served before 9/11 remember driving on base without showing an ID card. Each installation would open regularly to community leaders. As an airman first class in the band, more often than not, I was out in some distant community telling Air Force stories, projecting Air Force excellence, and above all, simply connecting with the public. We created those touchpoints with the uniform and planted seeds for future action. 

When we were attacked on 9/11, a lot changed. We locked down. The connection we once shared with the public changed. The areas we focused on shifted out of necessity, which contributed to the disconnect that we see today. When a global pandemic struck, we receded even further.  

Something else was happening too: The last time we had a draft was during The Vietnam War. That was 50 years ago! The all-volunteer force has been instrumental in building the most professional military the world has ever seen. But it has also limited our ability to bring in Americans from all walks of life.  

According to Air Force Recruiting Service, in 1995, approximately 40% of young Americans had a parent who served in the military. That number is less than 15% now. This parental connection to service matters to a young person wondering what to do next, and we've lost that entry point for millions of young Americans. 

Recently our chief of staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. highlighted, "We must connect with …influencers—family, teachers, coaches, counselors, and community leaders—who help guide our youth. We must bring the public onto our bases and send our Airmen out to see America." 

Locally, our 88th Air Base Wing commander, Col. Christopher Meeker, has led an effort to open Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to the local community. This is a shift we need right now to reconnect our military with the American public. 

Here at the Band of Flight, we are partnering with recruiters to reach young Americans and increase their awareness of what the Air Force offers and craft experiences with elementary schools to provide early, memorable touchpoints with the uniform.  

We’re partnering with Air Force Recruiting Services Detachment 1 to get after the Air Force's diversity initiative in its rated officer corps. We are excited to present Air Force pride and tell stories of heroism, professionalism and sacrifice. 

As a member of our Air Force, you have amazing stories to tell. Your unparalleled commitment and service to this county has led you to uniquely special lived experiences. I encourage every one of you to share your story of service, reach out to future generations and connect with the public. Together, we can shape relationships and build the future of our incredible United States Air Force. 

"We have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of patriotic Americans to join the Air Force, and it starts with you."- Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.