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Recruits find family and fraternity in the Air National Guard

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing

On the surface Yahaira Perez and Adam Fillipi seem to have little in common. Recently however, they found fraternity when they joined the Iowa Air National Guard.

Perez grew up in Sioux City, Iowa but only recently became a U.S. resident. In fact her desire to enlist in the Iowa Air Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing after graduating from Bishop Heelan High School, was delayed for a time while she waited to become a permanent U.S. resident. According to Perez, after her family become residents, both her and her brother Hector joined the Sioux City Iowa based Air Guard unit. 

“My parents came to the U.S. 17 years ago,” Perez explained, “I was born in Mexico but I wanted to serve the country that raised me and my family,” she added when talking about her motivation to join the Iowa Air Guard.

Perez is already in her third year at the Iowa State University where she is studying mathematics and pre-law, all on her parent’s dime. She explained that she wanted to get stated with college despite the fact that her delayed enlistment meant she would not receive college tuition assistance through the Guard. Undergraduate students in Iowa can typically receive full tuition when they join the National Guard.

Because of her interest in law, Perez said she initially wanted to join the Judge Advocate Generals Corp, or JAG office. However, because of her legal status at the time of enlistment she was not allowed to go that route, and opted instead to enlist as a supply specialist.

“At this point it’s just God’s plan,” said Perez, commenting about her delayed enlistment and missing out on tuition assistance. “It has shown me the value of money,” she added; clearly aware of her parent’s hard work that is allowing her to attend college.

In contrast Adam Fillipi grew up in the small town of Anthon, Iowa 45 minutes east of Sioux City. Fillipi comes from a tradition of military service, which is not uncommon in units of the National Guard.

Fillipi’s family legacy includes both of his parents who are long time unit members. In fact his mom is the 185th ARW Vice Wing Commander. Fillipi stated that he also has an uncle in the refueling wing and he is the last of three siblings to join.

Fillipi is finishing his senior year at Lawton Bronson high school where the timing of his enlistment will allow him to take advantage of the Iowa Guard’s tuition assistance program. He joined the unit’s security forces squadron, which made him eligible to receive an additional $15,000 enlistment bonus. The timing of his enlistment will also allow him to receive a monthly stipend through the GI bill while he attends college.

“I want to go to Morningside, (College) so that would definitely help with that, since that’s a private school,” Fillipi remarked.

185th Air Refueling Wing Recruiter, Master Sgt. Jerry Anderson said Perez and Fillipi were part of a group of over 90 enlistees to join the Sioux City, Iowa based Air Guard in 2020.

Anderson pronounced that despite the setbacks of COVID, his office was able to meet their recruiting goals for the year. Anderson explained that other things, like being located in a small city, also present unique recruiting challenges but that the family connections help significantly with recruiting.

“We get a lot (recruits) through the schools but we also get a lot of unit referrals, which speaks volumes because of how much people like this place,” Anderson said, whose son who is also a 185th unit member working in communications. “I think that is one of our advantages, how well family oriented this base is,” Anderson added.

Fillipi echoed Anderson’s comments when he said a major factor in joining the Air Guard was because of the involvement of his family in military service.

“It is a big family tradition, but I’ve always been interested in serving just because we live in a great country and I’ve always wanted to give back,” Fillipi commented.

While the financial benefits of joining the Air Guard are a significant selling point, Anderson says there are a variety of reasons why people join the Guard.

“I have had individuals tell me they don’t care about the bonus, they just want to do something where they can travel,” Anderson remarked.

Other reasons people are motivated to enlist, according to Anderson are opportunities to learn a trade or earn a commercial certificate in areas like cyber security. Anderson explained that there are many trades available through Air Guard membership which can allow enlistees to seek high demand civilian employment because of the training they receive in the military.

The 185th ARW is equipped with the KC-135 mid-air refueling aircraft which has been in the Air Force since the late 1950’s. With regular updates however, the aircraft and dozens of jobs surrounding its operations and maintenance have evolved through the years. Anderson asserted that the amount of technology involved in the daily operations has also created a higher demand for tech savvy recruits.

“Everything in the aircraft is going digital,” Anderson explained when speaking specifically about trades like avionics. “Those individuals who are getting out of high school and going into these career fields already have a leg up,” Anderson added.

Perez and Fillipi both hope to attend basic military training followed by their respective Air Force Technical Schools in the coming year. After college, Fillipi hopes to pursue an aircraft pilot position in the 185th Air Refueling Wing. Perez said she is interested in attending Drake University Law School in Des Moines, then possibly continuing her National Guard career as a JAG officer. Perez added that she has been so impressed with her experience so far that she hopes she and her brother are the start of their own family legacy of service with the Air National Guard.