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Michigan Guard finding new ways to recruit in COVID-19 era

Sgt. First Class Jason Brautigam, recruiting and retention noncommissioned officer, Michigan Army National Guard conducts a question and answer session via the internet due to social distancing restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dowagiac, Michigan, April 24, 2020. Recruiters are charged to develop and implement programs and tools necessary to achieve mission success and recruiters have turned to innovation techniques in order to meet mission requirements.

Sgt. First Class Jason Brautigam, recruiting and retention noncommissioned officer, Michigan Army National Guard conducts a question and answer session via the internet due to social distancing restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dowagiac, Michigan, April 24, 2020. Recruiters are charged to develop and implement programs and tools necessary to achieve mission success and recruiters have turned to innovation techniques in order to meet mission requirements. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. David Eichaker/released)

Sgt. First Class Jason Brautigam, left, and Staff Sgt. Michael Perry, recruiting and retention noncommissioned officers, Michigan Army National Guard, conduct a question-and-answer session via the internet due to social distancing restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dowagiac, Michigan, April 24, 2020.

Sgt. First Class Jason Brautigam, left, and Staff Sgt. Michael Perry, recruiting and retention noncommissioned officers, Michigan Army National Guard, conduct a question-and-answer session via the internet due to social distancing restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dowagiac, Michigan, April 24, 2020.

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Army and Air National Guard recruiting professionals are faced with a new and unique challenge – recruiting during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are using innovation to come up with new ways to meet the mission.

“We are typically seen in the public such as schools and colleges,” said Sgt. First Class Joel Burkhart, noncommissioned officer in charge of marketing, Michigan Army National Guard. “With the restrictions of social distancing, we found ourselves getting creative in ways we have never recruited before.”

Like the Michigan Army Guard recruiters, the Michigan Air Guard recruiters have found themselves in the same situation.

“The Michigan Air National Guard efforts have shifted from a face-to-face interaction to a social media-type interaction,” said Tech. Sgt. Scott Badgero, production recruiter, 110th Attack Wing. “We’re currently learning new ways to solve the recruiting question of where do we find talented people that would want to join the Air Guard.”

“Social distancing has definitely changed the way we interact with potential applicants,” he said.

Others agree.

“Recruiting is generally a face-to-face interaction business,” said Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Shirkey, recruiting and retention superintendent, Michigan Air National Guard. “With the impact of COVID-19 and social distancing, recruiters have been able to become innovative in their recruiting tactics and continue to develop best practices.”

Recruiters must develop and implement programs and tools to achieve mission success.

“Recruiting is vital to success of the overall force, and with today’s technology, we are still able to meet mission,” said Burkhart. “Recruiters are using social media platforms such as Facebook Live to answer questions and discuss how to become a member of the Michigan Army National Guard.

“We are also using Skype and FaceTime to conduct meetings with potential recruits to keep in line with social distancing guidance,” he said.

The Air Guard has also adopted alternate means to meet recruiting mission requirements.

“Air Guard recruiters are using all aspects of social media to reach prospective applicants,” said Badgero. “Facebook and Instagram seem to be the best performing platforms for reaching a large number of applicants interested in joining.

“Unit members are also sharing news articles, which increase the Air Guard’s footprint on social media,” he added.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the 95 Army Guard recruiters have seen increased interest in joining the Guard.

“We have seen a spike in interest on our online platforms and requests for information about the National Guard,” said Burkhart. “Since March 1st, we have received more than 100 leads from our website or social media, where we typically receive around 60.”

With 11 Air Guard recruiters throughout the Great Lakes State trying to make mission, recruiters have found success using their creativity.

“The effects have definitely changed how we conduct business,” said Shirkey. “This has given our recruiters the latitude and ability to be creative in exploring virtual platforms to service our potential members.”

Social media isn’t the only way recruiters are using technology to reach potential enlistees. Smartphone capabilities and other outlets have added to the continued success of the recruiting mission.

“The Michigan Army National Guard app also has a ‘refer a friend’ tab where anyone can refer a friend or family member for service,” said Burkhart. “We have received more than 110 leads from our app since the beginning of March.”

“We have seen 29 enlistments in the past 50 days via the app,” he said.

The Air recruiters use other outreach methods.

“Some new innovations that Air Guard recruiters are using include Zoom, conference calling, Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube channels,” said Badgero. “Utilizing these platforms allows recruiters to be ‘in the field’ while practicing social distancing.”

Although Michigan public schools have closed for the 2019-2020 school year, recruiters have not lost their relationship with the local school systems.

“We are conducting our first virtual educators' summit on June 5,” said Burkhart. “This is a program for educators to interact with the National Guard recruiters and learn how we can help them in their respective schools.”

With the Michigan National Guard’s response to the novel coronavirus, there has been an increase in those wanting to serve their communities through the Guard.

“It is my belief we are seeing a spike in our online referrals because our younger generation really cares about people and our communities,” said Sgt. Maj. David Stafford, command sergeant major of the Michigan Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion. “They want to be part of the solution and be involved in helping Michigan.”

“The Michigan Air National Guard is excited and ready to explore opportunities with new potential service members and prior service members who are looking to return to service,” said Shirkey.

Joining the Guard comes with benefits.

According to the Veterans Administration (VA) website, benefits include home loans to buy or retain a home, financial support for undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational and technical training, licensing and certification tests, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training. Life insurance, health insurance and many other benefits such as bonuses are also available.

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